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Robert Tucker
Author
Byron
Upon graduating from Harvard University in the field of molecular biology, Byron MacKenzie recalls the adventuresome and traumatic events of her childhood in a Louisiana backwater town during the social and political turmoil of the ‘60’s that shaped her future and her quest for integrity and truth.
Reviews
Tucker’s evocative, at times outraged novel of life and intolerance in 1960s Louisiana charts the development of Byron MacKenzie, a headstrong young woman who will grow from “know-nothing swamp rat”—that’s her words—to a Harvard scientist. Her story, she announces, is shaped by catastrophes, mostly man-made. That means that as they engage in exciting adventures in swamps and at school, Byron, who is white, and her diverse crop of friends must face “virulent” racists. Byron herself takes after her open-minded father, who risks hiring Black men to work at his mostly white mill, and she’s disgusted by local intolerance.

That includes challenges to the spirit of free inquiry in education, as Byron’s beloved Yankee science teacher, Mr. Maher, persists in teaching the theory of evolution despite the town’s growing agitation. This thread is the book’s most urgent, as Maher is, according to a friendly Vodoun with whom Byron enjoys a revelatory chance encounter, “a man … at the crossroads, the kalfou.” (That means a dangerous place “where there is conflict and great change is about to happen.”) That change is man-made, of course. Byron and her friends would rather be selling pralines in a vividly described Shantytown, but their turbulent decade won’t let them alone: parents strive to get Mr. Maher fired, and Klansmen make it known that Byron’s Black friend Aristophanes is risking his life spending time with her.

Tucker handles issues of bigotry and proud ignorance with persuasive, unstinting historical detail and a current of fury, even as his treatment of race and class is thoughtful and empathetic, attentive to every character’s humanity. His young people’s chatter is fresh and engaging, the varied bayou cultures are depicted with nuance, and Byron proves a wise and winning protagonist, daring to face the worst of humanity, and ultimately understanding of the masks her friends must wear.

Takeaway: A young woman comes of age amidst bigotry on the vividly described bayou.

Great for fans of: Jimmie Martinez’s Summer of Haint Blue, Ruta Sepetys’s Out of the Easy.

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

Artisan Book Reviews

Byron by Robert M. Tucker is a fascinating, riveting and intelligent novel that will draw the reader in and mesmerize them with its beautifully composed style, and its thought-provoking, touching and memorable story. Set in the 1960s, Byron builds an extraordinary commentary of what it might be like to have lived in those times and experienced the unique culture, people, beliefs and overall life in the sultry swamps of Louisiana.

Our protagonist is a young girl named after the poet, Lord Byron. Unlike her mother, she loves living in the swamps and embraces all that it offers. She is also color blind when it comes to who she chooses for her friends, and this adds to the rising tensions of the town and the era.

Byron is a captivating character. She is warm, friendly and her endless curiosity sees her collecting spiders, snakes, frogs and more from the swamps. Like most tomboys, she dresses in a relaxed practical style, has a dog that follows her everywhere, and baulks at the idea of wearing a dress and becoming more lady-like. That’s not all there is to love about her. She is happy, kind and accepts everyone she meets for who they are without judgement. Although the book is set back in another time, Byron is a great role model for younger readers.

In fact, there is a similarity between Byron and Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. The pair meet injustices eye to eye and have no qualms about exploring their world regardless of social norms and expectations. If you loved Scout, you are going to adore Byron.

The author creates the other characters in this novel with equal realism and enthusiasm. Byron’s science teacher, Mr Maher, will be a favorite with readers due to his passion for his chosen profession and his ability to communicate that to his students. Robert M. Tucker’s skill for capturing the essence of a personality is remarkable and makes this book all the more enjoyable. He is also a master of descriptive text and dialogue.

This is a thrilling, beautiful and haunting novel of a small Southern town in America with all the superstitions, narrow-mindedness and intriguing ways of the old South. Like the heat of the south and the slow-paced lifestyle, Byronwill seep into your being, captivate and cause you to take a long, deep breath. While there is plenty of action, the narrative will gently draw you in and seduce you. Readers will find there are so many layers in this novel they will want to read it over and over again. It is definitely going to take pride of place on bookshelves and become a family and reading favorite. Byron by Robert M. Tucker comes highly recommended by Artisan Book Reviews. Book reviewed by S. Day for Artisan Book Reviews.

Formats
Kindle Edition Digital Ebook Purchas Details
  • B001OMGZP2
  • pages
  • $

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