Book: Reap the Hot September Harvest
Review from Pacific Book Review
Reviewed by: Heather Brooks
The racially motivated shootings of thirty-eight Freedom Riders on Mother’s Day in 1961 leave survivor Desiree Pierson depressed and traumatized. The violence instantly destroys her idealism. Nor does placing herself in danger make Desiree a hero to everyone she meets. An aging African-American veteran from World War II, in whose home she recuperates from her injuries, feels intimidated by the Freedom Riders’ sacrificial bravery and resentful that returning black soldiers could not achieve similar equality sixteen years earlier. Desiree experiences lasting guilt about his resulting suicide. Desperate for healing, she eventually becomes a yoga instructor. Only then is she emotionally strong enough to meet Alan Duberry, a minister with controversial views concerning African-American Christianity, and a devotion to the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr. that, he assures Desiree, doesn’t just manifest itself on King’s birthday. Desiree strongly disagrees with many of Alan’s views, but she still falls for him.
For anyone unfamiliar with the Freedom Riders, this is an excellent introduction to their mission and to the various challenges they met. It is also a solid example of a piece with a confident, self-determined female lead character. The narrative also discusses therapy techniques some readers may have undergone at some point in their lives and with which they can likely identify. Mal, the old World War II veteran, offers the rare perspective of black soldiers who came home to hatred and general intolerance after basking in the glory of victory overseas. His suicide is a relatable response to the frustration of being too old to fight for another cause whose time has come. Kendall presents a cast of educated, middle-class African-American characters who demonstrate that blacks can and have achieved some parts of the fabled American Dream, even though others remain beyond their grasp.