Cassie Logan’s family owns their land. Their neighbors are mostly sharecroppers caught in the web of their landlord’s rules, fees, and whims, but Cassie’s family owns four hundred acres of good farmland. They go without a lot of things in order to pay taxes on that land, but the land and all it affords them is worth it; it is theirs.

From the first pages, reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is like watching a storm build—at times, the tension crackles and pulls. Early on, a band of white men attack a black family, burning three black men so badly one of them dies. Cassie hears about it in bits and pieces through neighborhood gossip until her mother takes her to visit one of the survivors—an old man wrecked by his wounds. The white men face no punishment, though everyone knows who did it. That violence looms over the story like a thunderhead.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor | Little Book, Big Story

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry follows Cassie’s family through the rest of that year, as Cassie’s awareness of the way things stand in her community grows. Mildred Taylor shows the complexity of life in a specific place at a specific time, drawing on her own father’s stories to give her book shape and weight. She does not paint in thick, bold strokes here but with skill and precision. She shows violent, arrogant white characters as well as kind ones, foolish black characters as well as strong, humble ones. Taylor does not tie the story up in a neat bow, either, as though the issues in it could be resolved in two hundred pages. She doesn’t explain it all for us, but gives us, the readers, room to do a lot of thinking.

And, if I’m honest, a lot of crying. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry contains a powerful instance of grace, one that made me cry in a most undignified manner on my front porch, in full view of the neighbors. We have not done away with violence or injustice, Taylor seems to say. But we have not quenched grace, either.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
Mildred D. Taylor (1976)