How rare is it for a book to suck the same reader, deep, into a swirling pool of emotions and tears every time?
Books that have caused surges of emotions, and with it, soulful waterworks, include The Book Thief, Mockingbird, Old Yeller, A Single Shard, and A Child Called “It”.
The braided rope of fairy lights intricately intertwining each beloved story is apparent to the reader– besides a couple exceptions, the majority of the books from my childhood.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is unique in terms of teaching me more about the setting of the South in the Jim Crow era, the struggles of lynching, and sharecropping. I was made less ignorant of the atrocities that occured far too often at the time.
Equally as impactful were Cassie and her family dynamic. Strong minded, quick witted, and passionate, Cassie brings in a fresh perspective of youth and energy. Despite the racial harassment aimed her way, she powers on.
Like a forest, Big Ma, her grandmother, are the land, the foundation, lasting and forever resilient. Her parents, Mama and Papa, are the tall, strong, and powerful trees, offering wisdom and guidance with endless leaves of love. Her brothers, Stacey, Little Man, and Christopher-John, are trampling cubs, energetic and intelligent. Uncle Hammer is the occasional murder of crows, but when he is present, he drops seeds of fruit and gifts…and humour.
When united, the large family are a cauldron of hot, strong love*.
The book teems with relationships, love, and family; these core themes shine powerfully between the cracks of hatred and the waterfalls of sweat and tears from the toil of the daily life of a colored worker in the fields.
The entire family’s relationship with Mr. Morrison, the taciturn hired hand who lost his parents in horrifying lynchings; Uncle Hammer, a great role model and protector; Jeremy, the white boy viewed generally as a outsider even in his own family and who wishes to befriend Cassie and her brothers; and most importantly, TJ, whom you can’t help but hate and love in the same time, made this book a clincher out of all of the books that I grew up with in elementary school.
Each relationship is a defining musical thread in a loom, where a thousand trilling golden yellow strings of silk are woven into a gentle harmony with a bass’s heartbeat in the background. Each, no matter how big or small, shaped Cassie and her brothers.
Chapter 11 begins with a poem- the very backbone of the paperback novel:
Roll of thunder
hear my cry
Over the water
bye and bye
Ole man comin’
down the line
Whip in hand to
beat me down
But I ain’t
gonna let him
Turn me ‘round
That alone sufficiently distills the entire novel. Those untouched by this story can quench their throats- a beautiful story stronger than human-sized spider silk, and everlasting as the stars studded in the billowing blanket of the night sky hung above.
Each pivotal moment: suspenseful. Every loving scene: touching beyond belief. The familial love and hope, the whole aura and feel of the book, was and still is unique and outstanding. There are reasons tears were shed, and a reason tears were laughed out.
I can’t ever truly relate to Cassie and all of the Black people living in the South back then. But the author has a golden thumb for weaving these experiences and past events into life.
Like a brutal iron punch to the chest, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry crushes your heart with a tidal wave of love, pain, grit, and trust. Injustice rings through the mistreatment of Cassie and her family, along with TJ, however they have each other in the end.
Like a lingering wayward drip of blue on a pristine white-coated wall, the novel is a treasure tucked in a secret alcove… one of the special stories that you will grow up reading of its secrets, and continue to grow up with it. Timeless, heart-wrenching, and thought-provoking, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is an unfathomably unregrettable novel to indulge in.
*“A Cauldron of Hot, Strong Love” sung by Celestina Warbeck, referenced in the Harry Potter series.