My Life with the Lincolns, by Gayle Brandeis;
Henry Holt and Company: New York,
Wilhelmina Edelman has three goals for the summer: to get through age twelve without dying, to keep her mom from becoming insane and going to a “nuthouse,” and to stop her dad from getting shot. As you might know, normal twelve-year-olds don’t usually have these types of summer goals. But Mina isn’t a normal twelve-year-old. She is Willie Lincoln reincarnated.
Actually, her whole family used to be the Lincolns. Her dad’s initials are ABE, and Mina and her sisters have girl versions of the names of the Lincoln boys. But being in a reincarnated family has its drawbacks. Mina has to keep her family from coming to the same sticky end as the Lincolns.
The book is set in 1966, and the Civil Rights Movement is well under way. Mina, being a girl from a white family, offers an interesting perspective on all the conflict going on. Mina’s father is a strong supporter of black rights and takes her on protest marches in secret. Once, they even went to an overnight vigil. At the vigil, the protesters kneeled on the ground until very late, even though people were crowded around them, taunting them and yelling offensive things. But the protesters persevered. This shows just how determined they were to get the rights they deserved, rights that should have been theirs at birth.
Another event that was occurring during that time was the Vietnam War. Mina and her sister sometimes played Vietnam with the boys next door, screaming gibberish and throwing fake grenades in imitation of their idea of the Vietnamese people. Also, her neighbor’s father is sent to Vietnam but comes back after losing one of his arms. I felt so bad for him, and I could only imagine the pain and hardship the man was going through.
A section of the book that really caught my attention was when Mina’s older sister, Roberta, falls in love with a young black man named Thomas. When they run away together and are found again, Mina’s mother is absolutely livid. She calls Thomas a predator and a menace and accuses him of having terrible intentions. I think she was being very prejudiced and racist because Thomas was a fine young man, and she surely would have not have been as enraged if he had been white.
When Mina’s father fires their black cleaning woman (he says he is “emancipating” her), Mina’s mom becomes vastly angry with him, like a spewing cauldron. When she finds out her husband has been lying to her and taking Mina to dangerous protest marches, the cauldron begins foaming and seething. Then, when Roberta runs away with Thomas, the cauldron churns and froths, and all the contents gush out. This shows Mina’s parents’ deteriorating relationship, and eventually it gets so bad that Mina’s dad moves out.
This book was truly excellent. It provided a different approach to the Civil Rights Movement and still described in detail all the events that were occurring. It also showed a child’s point of view to everything going on. People, some even from Mina’s own neighborhood, come to the protest marches just to throw rocks, bricks, and even Molotov cocktails at the protesters and to shout in their faces about White Power and other awful things.
But back to the ongoing Lincoln problem. Will Mina die an early death like Willie Lincoln? Or will she be able to keep history from repeating itself?