Ruby Lee and Me (Shannon Hitchcock) takes us back to 1969 in North Carolina. It is the summer before Sarah Beth Willis’s sixth grade year and her summer takes some unexpected turns. Along with her sister, Robin, being involved in a terrible accident, school integration is stirring up emotions that may effect her friendship with Ruby Lee.
The cover is initially what drew me to this book. My daughter (10) enjoys reading but it can be challenging to find books that capture her interest. I was hoping the story of Ruby Lee and Me would appeal to her more selective reading taste. While it isn’t always possible, I do try to pre-read books that my younger children will be reading. Ruby Lee and Me was a quick and easy read.
I will confess that I was a bit disappointed in Ruby Lee and Me. First, I think the book synopsis is misleading. After reading the book synopsis, I thought that the majority of this book would deal with Ruby Lee and Sarah dealing with their friendship in a newly integrated school. I fully expected the new black teacher, Mrs. Smyre, to play a role in the changes happening. This was not the case. I think integration played second fiddle to Robin’s (Sarah’s sister) accident and the guilt that Sarah was carrying over that. Throughout the book, family members warn Ruby Lee and Sarah that they can’t act as friends at school. Toward the end of the book, when school finally begins, it only deals with the school’s Open House night where you get to meet the teachers.
At one point in the story, Ruby Lee and Sarah get into an argument. Sarah calls Ruby Lee a name that she knows will hurt Ruby Lee deeply. Now Sarah has this added guilt of hurting her friend. After the school’s Open House, this same word has been written on Mrs. Smyre’s car (The “n” slang word).
In the end, Sarah confesses to her parents the guilt she feels in her responsibility of Robin’s accident. She is quickly reassured that there is no blame on her. Sarah is also able to make amends with Ruby Lee as well.
My daughters, 10 and 12, both read Ruby Lee and Me and they both enjoyed it. My twelve year old did come to me and ask what the word was that Sarah called Ruby and that was written on the teacher’s car. We had a bit of discussion on that word, the power of words, and how the tongue is a powerful weapon that can wound deeply.
I feel Sarah’s story could have been more meaningful if the author had chosen one story line to follow. With the accident, integration, and even some boy/girl relationship introduced, pieces seemed to be tacked on and not developed fully. Again my girls enjoyed reading the book and it would likely serve well as an easy summer read. It is aimed at ages 9-12 and I think the younger age would benefit the most. While not well developed, it could be used as a springboard for some discussion on emotions such as guilt, friendship, and integration.