Plot/Idea: Byron is a coming-of-age novel set in rural Louisiana in the 1960s. Tucker blends southern small-town dynamics with a more broad-ranging reflection on historical events and societal currents.
Prose: Tucker's prose is richly detailed and captures a vivid sense of time and place. Descriptions of the swampy environs of Louisiana are especially evocative.
Originality: The author tackles a number of weighty topics through its focus on prejudicial attitudes relating to race, gender, and perspectives that favor science over religiosity. It's a lot to juggle and Tucker's efforts to paint a full portrait of a tumultuous era, are commendable.
Character/Execution: The titular character emerges as plucky, distinctive, and fresh. Additional characters are afforded effective development, while also serving as mirrors for circumstances unfolding on a grander scale.
Date Submitted: April 03, 2023
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.
Design and typography: B+
Marketing copy: A
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.