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The New Frontier
Wilson, Wayne L
Wilson (author of Kate, the Ghost Dog) captures the pain and truth of racial division in 1960s America in his latest YA novel. 12-year-old Samuel Cole has grown up enjoying his life in a small southern town, where kids swap stories about the bogeyman and the Black community is tight-knit and joyful. When his father, inspired by then-Senator John Kennedy’s impassioned rhetoric of a new frontier, moves the family to an all-White neighborhood in Los Angeles, they discover that such upbeat promises only extended so far. The Coles’s new home is soon scrawled with racist graffiti, Grant Cole’s prized Buick is vandalized, and the family must deliberate and weigh every interaction with their new neighbors. While the Coles make a place for themselves against overwhelming odds, Samuel and his new friend Patsy come face-to-face with a real live bogeyman who is lurking in this seemingly quaint neighborhood.

Wilson’s sharp character studies guide the thrust of the story. He captures the incredulity and childhood innocence of a young Black kid confronting racism for the first time. Sam and his father Grant are real people: their twinned anger and weariness at their situation will resonate with many readers. Still, Wilson manages to keep the story warm and engaging, emphasizing heartfelt moments of connection between the Coles and another family, the Wolfbergs, who bond over jazz and a shared sense of isolation.

Wilson’s writing is fresh and enlivening, and the novel pulses with the talk and culture of the period. Ray Charles is on the turntable and the twist is the latest craze hitting the dance floor. A half-realized plot about a botched kidnapping rather distracts from the otherwise fine period piece that is especially relevant in today’s political climate. The New Frontier will appeal to young readers, but Wilson’s humor and his main character’s distinctive voice will draw in a more seasoned readership as well.

Takeaway: Powerful novel of racial division in 1960s America, bursting with heart.

Comparable Titles: Kekla Magoon’s The Rock and the River, Jas Hammonds’s We Deserve Monuments.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A