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Childress, Mark: Crazy in Alabama

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Family tumult and nationwide social unrest converge to shake the world of 12-year-old orphan Peejoe Bullis in the summer of 1965, "when everybody went crazy in Alabama.''

This wise, funny novel by the author of Tender opens as Peejoe's relatively tranquil life with his grandmother is jolted by the arrival of his Aunt Lucille, who is on her way to Hollywood to become a star after poisoning her husband (in the first of the book's many violent images, she pulls the dead man's severed head out of a tupperware container). Peejoe and his older brother Wiley move on to their Uncle Dove's home in Industry, Ala., where racial conflict brings frightening bloodshed as well as oratory from George Wallace and Martin Luther King Jr. Meanwhile, on the road and in California, the newly emancipated Lucille brings every ounce of her desirability and determination to bear on her quest for stardom.

Childress tells his story through the masterfully crafted voice of the adult Peejoe reminiscing from his home in present-day San Francisco. He depicts each character with convincing detail and all the vividness of childhood memory; there is magic in his mixture of humor and pathos, boyish candor and time-earned understanding. The narrative has a unique gentleness that tempers even the most extreme horrific or comic events without dismissing or oversimplifying them. Terrible crimes go unpunished, and good people face tragedy--not always nobly--but this remains a tale of laughter and great hope, one not easily forgotten.