Cover image for Prince Edward
Prince Edward
McFarland, Dennis.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Henry Holt, [2004]

Physical Description:
354 pages ; 25 cm
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 6.8 20.0 105183.
Geographic Term:

Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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This is the story of ten year old Benjamin Rome, and his hometown of Farmville, in Virginia. In August 1959 the Supreme Court has ordered the state to desegregate the schools. Ben finds himself facing choices beyond his years.

Author Notes

Dennis McFarland was born in 1950 and received his B.A. from Brooklyn College. In 1981, he was awarded a Wallace Stegner fellowship.

In addition to writing books, McFarland has taught creative writing at Stanford University and has written numerous contributions to such periodicals as Mademoiselle and The New Yorker. His novels are generally about families ravaged by alcoholism. They include "School for the Blind," "The Music Room," and "A Face at the Window."

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Summer 1959 was sweltering in Prince Edward County, Virginia, but it wasn't just the humidity that had the locals hot under the collar. The public schools were closing--a daring attempt to defy federally forced integration. McFarland tells the story of that summer through the eyes of 10-year-old Benjamin Rome, who watches the fevered activities of the adults around him--his bigoted chicken-farmer father, his good-ole-boy brother, his melancholy pregnant sister, his tyrannical grandfather-- with a certain detachment, concerned mainly about how their activities might impinge on his life and that of his best friend, Burghardt, the son of Benjamin's father's black hired hand. McFarland shows admirable restraint in telling this emotionally charged story; he draws effectively on the historical record, including several real-life supporting characters, but it is the family drama that draws us in and reminds us how history is made while ordinary people are cleaning out the chicken coops. The subject matter suggests To Kill a Mockingbird, of course, but the nicely modulated tone will also remind readers of Larry Watson's Montana 1948. --Bill Ott Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

McFarland is a novelist of quiet eloquence (Singing Boy; The Music Room) whose powers of careful observation and refusal to venture into melodrama are particularly evident in his latest, a picture of that fateful summer of 1959 when Prince Edward County in Virginia closed its public schools rather than open them by court order to black children. The story is told through the eyes of 10-year-old Benjamin Rome, son of a segregationist chicken farmer, whose best friend is Burghardt, a bright black youngster who shares his dreary farm chores. It is told through Benjamin's eyes, but not in his voice; McFarland does not attempt any of the kind of ventriloquism so popular these days, but writes as an intelligent adult seeing with the limited vision of a boy Ben's age as his mother and father squabble; his older sister, Lainie, goes off for a wonderfully described abortion; and older brother Al tries to stay on the sidelines in the racial battle shaping up. McFarland has introduced some of the real local characters of the time into his story, but just as convincing is Ben's grandfather Daddy Cary, presented in a remarkable portrait of elderly and self-indulgent Southern delinquency. The foreground of this fine and affecting novel is alive with the sights and sounds of a sweltering Virginia summer, but it is the author's real achievement to make it simultaneously clear that in the barely perceived background a world is turning upside down. (May 5) Forecast: McFarland already has an admiring following, which should relish his quietly thoughtful reconstruction of a momentous time now 45 years in the past. Author tour. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Reacting to the Supreme Court's earlier landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education in the summer of 1959, the white citizens of Prince Edward County, VA, vote to close their public schools rather than integrate. Their solution is to create a new system of private schools before the fall semester, by any means necessary. Benjamin Rome, a curious ten-year-old who loves to eavesdrop, discovers that his father and his older brother are helping to stock the new school with stolen books and athletic equipment. And Ben's grandfather belongs to a cabal of smug businessmen, journalists, and clergy conspiring to intimidate dissenters. McFarland (Singing Boy) uses the inexorable collapse of the Rome clan to demonstrate the corrosive effects of racism on the larger community. The narrative moves at a slow and deliberate pace, straight out of the 1950s, and the supposedly scandalous sexual revelations are completely predictable. This fact-based historical novel seems to have been written with book clubs and discussion groups in mind. Recommended for larger fiction collections and libraries with a special interest in Virginiana. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/03.]-Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-This evocative novel depicts the white power structure's cruel response to the Brown v. Board of Education decision: shutting down the county's public schools from 1959 to 1964. Ben Rome describes the tense summer of 1959 in Prince Edward County, VA, when he was living on his segregationist father's chicken farm. The 10-year-old is bewildered and fascinated by frantic efforts to establish a system of whites-only private education before the fall term begins. Indulging a vague ambition of becoming a spy, he eavesdrops and snoops on the adults, learning more than he bargains for as he observes how community anxiety intensifies troubles among the complex characters populating his universe. His sister Lainie is depressed about giving up college for marriage and an unwanted pregnancy, his parents rage at one another, his older brother becomes increasingly furtive, and the "teasing" that Ben endures from his powerful, malevolent paternal grandfather escalates from humiliating to perverse. Most worrying is the plight of Ben's friend Burghardt, the youngest member of a black tenant family, whose fearless Granny Mays is determined he will get an education no matter how threatening the obstacles. As recalled in the adult Ben's measured, lucid voice, a significant time and place come to life as the Romes and their neighbors struggle in a world about to change irrevocably. An author's note comments on the story's historical context and on the real-life figures who appear in it. A good choice for pairing with Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird (Lippincott, 1961) for classroom or book-group discussions.-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax County Public Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



From Prince Edward : Mother turned quickly from the sink, and I saw them exchange a deeply meaningful look. I was used to it. I'd noticed that adults rarely said all they knew, and they often seemed to suggest, with what they did say, that they were holding back a great amount of knowledge, even if they weren't. This dubious skill was apparently a cardinal attribute of being an adult. By the age of ten, I'd already heard enough about the cruelty of children, but no one ever mentioned the fact that with children, cruel or not, it was a lot easier to know where you stood. I'd also learned that there was status to be gained by acquiring and controlling more and more information, then holding as much as possible close to your chest. Meanwhile, all over the world, teachers, preachers, and scoutmasters exhorted children to tell the truth--it was even a Commandment--and from the way they stressed it, you would think they were actually afraid that children might grow up to become this rare and hideous spectacle, the adult who kept secrets. But of course children could see quite early that everybody grew into an adult who kept secrets. Excerpted from Prince Edward: A Novel by Dennis McFarland All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.