Book Review: For Lamb by Lesa Cline-Ransome
An interracial friendship between two teenaged girls goes tragically wrong in this powerful historical novel set in the Jim Crow South.
For Lamb follows a family striving to better their lives in the late 1930s Jackson, Mississippi. Lamb’s mother is a hard-working, creative seamstress who cannot reveal she is a lesbian. Lamb’s brother has a brilliant mind and has even earned a college scholarship for a black college up north— if only he could curb his impulsiveness and rebellious nature.
Lamb herself is a quiet and studious girl. She is also naive. As she tentatively accepts the friendly overtures of a white girl who loans her a book she loves, she sets a off a calamitous series of events that pulls in her mother, charming hustler uncle, estranged father, and brother, and ends in a lynching.
Told with nuance and subtlety, avoiding sensationalism and unnecessary brutality, this young adult novel from celebrated author Lesa Cline-Ransome pays homage to the female victims of white supremacy.
A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection
Here’s the thing: I can’t review everything. I can’t read everything. As it stands, right now these days, I’m juggling working in an elementary library, TLT stuff, preparing two presentations for Teen Lit Con this spring, and working on a feature for SLJ. And parenting and being President of Everything at my house. I really need to read LESS, time-wise (though, NO). Often I make a pile of books I definitely want to read and figure, at least I can write a short post-it note review. But in this case, with For Lamb, I started reading and knew I needed more space, if for no other reason than to help draw your attention to this book.
Read the summary up there, if you haven’t. For real—go do it. It gives you the big plot points and sets the stage. And now here’s what I’ll add: this book wrecked me. By the end I was sobbing for Lamb, for her parents, for her brother, for the shameful history in our country. Marion, Lamb and her brother Simeon’s mother, is tough. She’s always done things her own way and seems hard on her children. She comes off like someone doing exactly what white people demand of her—be polite to them no matter how awful they are, never correct them, let them be nasty. She tries to keep her kids in line too, and for Lamb, that’s a bit easier. Lamb is quiet and careful and worries about consequences. Simeon is quick to speak up and correct people, even white people, is infuriated by the horrors and injustices happening all around them in the Jim Crow south, and wants nothing more than to get out of there and head north for college. But the reason Marion is always trying to shut him up and get him to just go along with things is that she knows that their survival, Simeon’s only chance of making it out, depends on them being “good” and respectful enough to stay off the radar of those who could end their lives, to just be left alone. But life never goes according to plan, does it?
The story is told from many perspectives—Lamb, Simeon, Marion, Chester (Marion’s former husband and the children’s dad), Uncle Chime, and, eventually, Myrtle (Marion’s lover). We are able to follow the young lives of Marion, Chester, and Chime, the things that led them to where they are now and the choices they’ve made, or have made for them. The deeper we get into all of their lives, their histories, the more powerful this story becomes. From the start, we know we are working toward some awful conclusion, but as the chapters go on, as we get more involved in their lives, the pace picks up, the chapters are short, and by the awful moment we KNOW is coming, the story grabs hold of you and won’t let you look away from the horrors that unfold on the page.
Despite being a hard, deeply upsetting read, Cline-Ransome fills the story of Lamb and everyone around her with so much love. There is a lot of hate, yes, but there is love. Marion’s love for her children, a love that sometimes comes off as punishing, is profound.
Back matter, as well as a nod in the publisher’s description, explains that often female victims of white supremacy and lynching are overlooked in history. Here, they take center stage, and the stories of Lamb, Marion, and their family will stick with me for a long time. A brutal but beautiful read.
Review copy (finished) courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 01/10/2023
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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