In The Sittin’ Up, author Shelia P. Moses returns to Rich Square, North Carolina, made famous by her National Book Award finalist and Coretta Scott King Honor book, The Legend of Buddy Bush. In Moses’ charming, ever-thoughtful new novel, one death in the summer of 1940 has the power to transform an entire town.
Twelve-year-old Bean (nicknamed for his close friendship with skinny-as-a-pole Martha Rose) narrates the events that occur after his adopted grandfather, 100-year-old Mr. Bro. Wiley, the last of the region’s former slaves, takes his final breath.
Wiley, a gentle, loving man who offered guidance to his community, was respected by both blacks and whites alike and surely deserves a “sittin’ up,” or wake, like no other. Although the Depression has hit Bean’s sharecropping family and neighbors hard, the boy’s folksy vernacular describes the rich foods, colorful characters and revered traditions that still shape the Low Meadows. Just as the tears fall, so does the rain, bringing with it a threat of flood that could destroy Bean’s entire town. The boy strives to prove that he’s old enough not only to participate in the sittin’ up, but also to step up as a man and help save his family.
While most African-American children’s literature focuses on either slavery or the Civil Rights movement, Moses gives middle grade readers a glimpse of a time when slavery was recent enough to weigh heavily on the minds and hearts of African Americans, yet a more equitable future was also imaginable. Bean sees how many whites still mistreat the black townsfolk and how sharecropping is a looser form of slavery; nevertheless, he knows that an education will help him achieve his dream of becoming a doctor. Moses’ masterful storytelling shows how Wiley’s death could be the key that helps unite this community.