HIDING MR. MCMULTY, by Berniece Rabe, 240 pages, Browndeer Press/Harcourt Brace, $18.
A must-read during Black History Month is Berniece Rabe's story of the conflicts between races in Missouri during the 1930s. This was not an easy time for landowners and sharecroppers. This is especially true if you were black and "beholdin'. " That is what Mr. McMulty was, black and indebted to the rich Mr. Nert, who lived on the hill.Rass Whitley (remembered from Rabe's previous story, "Rass") is Mr. McMulty's friend. Rass learns much about life from the old man. When the Whitleys' land is destroyed in a flash flood, the black man is turned out of his house by the Nerts so that the Whitleys can have it.
Rass hides Mr. McMulty, who is accused of killing an animal owned by the Nerts. The Ku Klux Klan seeks vengeance.
This powerful story meshes the themes of prejudice, discrimination and loyalty. There is nothing as vicious as revenge and hatred as shown in the plot, yet nothing as faith-promoting as the friendship and love.
Rabe's style is consistent, a Midwest drawl with clipped dialogue that may be difficult for younger readers. But there is no question about the well-developed characterizations, especially Mr. Whitley, whose fury is fueled by desperation and yet can be tempered with the traditional storytelling.
In speaking to the author, Rabe admitted to the "nearly autobiographical" nature of "Hiding Mr. McMulty." It was "close to my family's life, and when I recently spoke to a brother, he says there is even more to the story than is told here . . . ."
Readers will enjoy this heartfelt story - especially if read aloud - and welcome a third in the series of Rass and Mr. McMulty. There must be more to tell!
YESTERDAY'S CHILD, by Sonia Levitin, 248 pages, Simon & Schuster, $17.
After her mother's death, 16-year-old Jasimine wonders why they were never close. In an attempt to seek answers, she finds a picture of her mother and a childhood friend, Megan, with a letter alluding to "forgiveness."
On a class trip to Washington, D.C., Jasmine visits her mother's hometown and tries to locate Megan. There she discovers many surprises, such as a change of name, people being disturbingly rude and denial of any knowledge of Jasmine's mother. Jasmine's life is suddenly in danger because of the questions being asked.
"Yesterday's Child" is a thriller. The beginning chapters build to a climax as the sleuthing is done, but it races to a breakneck speed of intrigue as events start to fall in place. Words such as murder, accomplice, children and hatred all file together in a tight plot that is resolved with a lump in the throat for the reader.
The mystery has traces of early romance with coming-of-age events that are realistic in language, setting and theme. The lilt of Levitin's dialogue attests to her keen ability to hear teenager's slang and banter.
Levitin is the author of many highly acclaimed books for young readers, including "Incident at Loring Groves," which won the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Award for the best juvenile mystery of the year, and "The Return" and "Journey to America," both of which won National Jewish Book Awards. Her recent novel, "Evil Encounter," combines early relationships in a power struggle of trust and defiance.