Moonrise over New Jessup

Algonquin. Jan. 2023. 336p. ISBN 9781643752464. $28. F
DEBUT In this 2021 winner of the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, getting off a Birmingham-bound bus in the town of New Jessup entirely changes the life of Alice, our heroine and narrator. The year is 1957, and Alice is amazed that this small town in Alabama has no signage for “coloreds only” at water fountains and restrooms. This community has only Black residents and is a well-organized, well-run, prosperous place. There Alice meets and falls in love with Raymond Campbell, the grandson of one of New Jessup’s founders and the owner of a successful automotive repair and towing business. Raymond secretly belongs to the National Negro Advancement Society, an organization striving to keep the races segregated and allow Black Alabamians to flourish without the aid of white people. Alice eventually learns that Raymond’s local group aims to make New Jessup a recognized municipality, and like the national group, they do not favor racial integration but separation and self-governance.
VERDICT An outstanding writer, Minnicks excels at capturing the atmosphere and issues of a specific locale at a particular time, the Deep South at the dawn of the civil rights era. This highly recommended title is an excellent choice for book discussion groups and would make a great movie.
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