I don't think anyone would argue that Zora Neale Hurston is one of the most influential writers of the Harlem Renaissance, and maybe even of literature in general. Her book Their Eyes Were Watching God was pure magic. She is an icon down here where I live, as she spent her childhood years in the first all-black town in the US called Eatonville, just on the north side of Orlando.
I find it natural and expected that writers and best friends Bond and Simon decided that they needed to craft a book about Zora as a child - she was such a compelling personality. Instead of writing another biography, though, they gathered as much factual data about her as possible, observed pictures of where she lived, learned about her friends and mentors, read her short stories to capture her spirit, and wrote a fictional middle grade novel. Thus came the highly anticipated debut novel "Zora and Me".
Synopsis: Narrated by Zora's best friend Carrie, the girls, along with the third musketeer Teddy, have adventures in Eatonville in the early 1900's. The presence of a mythical alligator named Ghost, and it's maiming and killing of one of Eatonville's residents, fuels the children's imagination. Zora, an inquisitive, precocious little firecracker, is the ringleader of the trio. She is convinced that Ghost is really half man, half beast, and the kids play detective to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Unfortunately, they stumble into something that is bigger than all of them. Instead of catching the evil man-gator, they receive a harsh education on the chasm between blacks and whites.
My thoughts: Bond and Simon have created a precious novel on several counts. They have obviously done their homework, and have resurrected Zora as she must have been as a youth - vibrant, curious, and a great storyteller. They have also stayed true to her environment and recreated Eatonville as it was: the boisterous, gossipy men on the front porch of Joe Clark's store, the closeness of the community, the transient workers passing through town, the trips into Maitland for shopping, the wise guidance of Zora's white godfather. (By the way, all of these elements have been included in "Their Eyes Were Watching God" as well.) It is a loving tribute to a very talented lady.
It is also a coming-of-age story. Carrie begins to have confusing and warm feelings towards Teddy. The children also lose a bit of their innocence as a result of the tough life lessons they learn about race and class. It is tender and bittersweet.
Whether you are a fan of Zora Neale Hurston, a fan of Southern fiction, or a 10 to 12 year old looking for something interesting to read, this book is a must.