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The Air Between Us,


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About the Author

Deborah Johnson now lives and works in Columbus, Mississippi, after residing for many years in Italy.


In Johnson's vivid debut, Revere, Miss., is a 1966 small town teetering on the brink of integration. Willie B. Tate Jr., a 10-year-old black boy known as "Critter," drives poor white man Billy Ray Puckett to the whites-only emergency room after Billy Ray has a hunting accident. Caught up in the middle of the fallout after Billy Ray's unexpected death is Dr. Cooper Connelly, a prominent white doctor who serves on the school board and has controversial prointegration views. Cooper is a man with secrets, including why he keeps company with Madame Melba Obrensky, a "raceless" woman with a mysterious past who manages to keep herself well-apprised of all sides of the town's doings. Melba happens to be the next-door neighbor of Dr. Reese Jackson, a respected black physician who has managed to cross the race barrier and establish his practice on Main Street. As the heat of the school board meetings about integration and of the investigation into Billy Ray's death increase, the atmosphere becomes explosive. Johnson tries to squeeze too much out of the limited plot, but compelling character studies keep pages turning. (Jan.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

Johnson's novel introduces the small Southern city of Revere, MS, during the civil rights era. Most whites are outraged that the federal government plans to integrate the public schools, and some are campaigning to use public funds to construct segregated private academies. Blacks, meanwhile, want the resources integration promises but fear violent retribution if efforts succeed. At the heart of the story are two physicians, African American Reese Jackson and Caucasian Cooper Connelly. Unfortunately, both are stereotypes. Worse, other characters are cliches, from a reformed prostitute with a heart of gold to a materialistic Southern belle who marries Connelly. Sophisticated readers will likely find this-and the cheery ending-cloying. Nonetheless, the book might be of interest to teenage readers and their instructors because it provides a simplified history of the 1960s, zeroing in on the race and class hatred that divided communities throughout the South. In addition, it assesses violence as a tactic and asks if its use is ever justified, a theme that will have resonance in classrooms.-Eleanor J. Bader, Brooklyn, NY Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

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