Little Rock, Arkansas has been known throughout the country as a hotbed of the segregation and integration movements. In 1957, several African-American students, known as the Little Rock Nine, went to one of the high schools. A year later, high schools are closed all over Little Rock to ensure that they won’t be integrated.
Twelve-year-old Marlee Nisbett isn’t caught up in that piece of the drama, but her older sister Judy is. She’s sent away to their grandparent’s house, and Marlee, who has always been shy and reserved, feels as though her world has been torn apart. Only because of Judy has Marlee even remotely participated in school. Marlee, however, always feels like she’ll say the wrong thing, and usually doesn’t speak in class unless she has to.
But despite believing going to middle school will just make everything worse, Marlee meets Liz, a new girl. Though they have almost nothing in common, they become fast friends. Liz helps Marlee grow more confident with talking to other people as they work together on a project for school. It’s not long, though, before Liz has to leave—and it doesn’t take Marlee long to learn why. Liz is really African-American, trying to get a better education at a better school. Marlee, though, isn’t willing to give up on a friend who has helped her so much, and is determined that their friendship won’t end here. But in 1958 Little Rock, that’s not as easy as it sounds. If anyone learns what they’re doing, both their lives could be in danger—and the world which Marlee’s always known may be about to fall apart.
When I started The Lions of Little Rock, I didn’t think it would become one of my favorite books, since historical fiction isn’t usually my favorite genre. But Marlee was an interesting, sympathetic heroine who I could understand every step of the way. Although the schools closing in 1958 and the issue of integration were major points in the plot, what drove the force of the story were the characters and their choices. It didn’t feel like a lesson from a history book, but I learned a lot. It was an excellent book, well-written, weaving in bits of history naturally and easily. I would highly recommend The Lions of Little Rock to readers ages ten and up.