Sunday, May 3, 2009

On Beale Street

While I was in college I took two separate trips to Memphis, Tennessee to visit my cousin and her family. On one of the trips, which I took with a good friend of mine, we managed to do a fair amount of touristy type stuff. That included visiting Elvis' home, Graceland, and stopping off at Beale Street. On Beale Street by Ronald Kidd takes place in 1954, well before my visit there. At the time Beale Street was the place to go to here music and Johnny can't keep away despite being warned by his mother not to go there. While he is spending time on Beale Street he gets a job working at Sun Records and befriends Elvis Presley who is just making his move at becoming a famous musician. Johnny and his mother, who works for a wealthy white man, live in a small home on her boss' property. While Johnny is not friend with the boss's son, he is friends with the driver's son, Lamont Turner. The two of them are discouraged from hanging out as adults, both black and white, can see the trouble this could lead to. Lamont and Johnny happen to be driving around one night when they witness a cross burning by the KKK on the front lawn of an apartment complex in the projects. Johnny is forced to analzye what the color of one's skin means. When Elvis is badly beaten and Lamont is accused of the crime, Johnny sets out to find out what really happened that night and clear his friend. What he discovers will change his own life forever if the truth is revealed.

Having been to Beale Street and many of the other places referenced in this book was a pleasant bonus in my reading. I enjoyed the plot and suspense Kidd created. And as always, it is a wonderful look at history when a story can be developed around key events in the past. Kidd includes an author's note at the novel's end, explaining this time in history and also what happened to the people in this book later in their lives.

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