Thursday, April 10, 2008

My Mother the Cheerleader

My Mother the Cheerleader
Robert Sharenow
Harper Collins, 2007

Few people would admire Louise’s mother. Besides being a neglectful alcoholic who frequently “entertains” truckers in her boarding house in New Orleans, she is also a Cheerleader – one of the women who gather in front of Louise’s elementary school to scream horrible racial insults at Ruby Bridges when she is escorted to school each morning. Louise has been pulled out of school as a protest to integration. She spends her days helping around the boarding house, cleaning up after a mean, legless man and cleaning his bedpans. Louise had never even thought much thought about the fairness of segregation. As she says, “My first reaction to the news that William Franz was to be integrated was to wonder why the Negro kids wanted to go to such a crummy school.” (p. 10)

One day a man shows up looking for a room. Although Morgan Miller says he’s in town to visit his family, it becomes evident that he is also interested in the protests down at the school. Both Louise and her mother are fascinated by Mr. Miller – Louise because he’s interested in reading and her mom because she’s interested in men. Neither is prepared for the conflict this man will bring.

Every morning Louise’s mother goes to the school to fulfill her duty as a Cheerleader. The day after Morgan Miller arrives, she continues her routine. She’s startled, however, to see Morgan step out of his car to watch the whole scene. He tells her that he witnessed the whole thing in order to see “real courage” because he needed courage in order to visit his brother. Unfortunately, his visit (in a car with New York plates) gets noticed by the redneck men who also attend each morning’s sessions.

There is nothing romantic, nothing pretty about this book. Louise is a character who is definitely not thriving in her environment – but at least she’s surviving it. She does realize that “Acts of courage come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes what seems like a small moment to one person constitutes an unprecedented act of bravery for another.” (p. 286)

I wouldn’t call this a fun read, but it was a good one and an important one. As a child of integration (my elementary school was integrated just a couple of years before I started first grade), I cannot imagine what a segregated school would have been like. It’s thanks to the courage of people like Ruby Bridges that I didn’t have to.

1 comment:

BooksandLove said...

I've seen this book in stores but I never knew what it was about. Sounds like something I would read.