Ellen’s Pick of the Week: Nothing More Dangerous by Allen Eskens

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Freshman Boady Sanden’s life at St. Ignatius High  is miserable and it only gets worse when, one day in the school cafeteria, he trips one of the school bullies and thwarts his scheme to dump pudding on the only black girl in school. From then on, Boady becomes the bullies’ main target and he gets serious about his plans to escape his small and suffocating home town of Jessup MO. The only two good things he’s got in his life are his mysterious and wise neighbor Hoke, who seems to have always been there for Boady and who is a sort of father figure to him since his widowed mother seems to have withdrawn from life.  And his woods—Boady’s sanctuary when life gets to be just too much.

When an African American  family moves into the neighborhood who has a son his own age, Boady is initially thrilled and eventually he and Thomas become good  friends. The school bullies and the white folks who think they rule Jessup, aren’t as happy to see this family move into “their” territory and take it personally when they realize that  Thomas, the father, has been brought from Minnesota to clean up the factory, a major employer in town. Not surprisingly for the time period—the early 1970s–the town is ‘ruled’ by a KKK-like hate group called CORPS: Crusaders Of Racial Purity and Strength and even the local cops seem reluctant to cross them. And when Boady and Thomas find the body of a missing black woman in the woods, all hell breaks loose and the two boys are right in the middle of it all.

The heart of this compelling coming-of-age story is the friendship between Thomas and Boady, who despite the threats and danger they face, try to solve a murder that even the adults were unable or unwilling to do. Nothing More Dangerous reminded me of Ordinary Grace by Krueger and To Kill a Mockingbird by Lee—two of my all-time favorite books. This would be an excellent book for older teens as well as adults who enjoy Southern literature and well-developed characters trying their best to do the right thing and also stay alive. Highly recommended.

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