Taylor, Mildred D. The Land. New York: Phyllis Fogelman-Penguin Putnam, 2001. Print.
Paul-Edward Logan slowly learns the cruelties of being a biracial child as he encounters bullying, injustice, discrimination in his community and eventually betrayal at the hands of his own [white] brother and best friend, Robert. At the age of 14, while on a trip with Robert and his father to East Texas, Paul gets into some trouble and flees with his former bully-turned-friend, Mitchell. The two wander the South for several years, working at lumber camps before going their separate ways for a bit. Paul’s long-time dream of buying his own land almost falls through after Mitchell is fatally attacked, the land contract they had been working toward is reneged upon and Paul almost loses his entire savings in earnest money. Paul reaches out to his sister for money help and in doing so, saves his dream property deal. He settles down to raise a family with Mitchell’s widow and is eventually reunited with the rest of his estranged family.
Before the Civil War through the late 1880s in Georgia, East Texas and Mississippi
Point of View:
1st person (Paul Logan)
Racial relations, identity and finding your place in the world
Taylor’s writing reflects the time period and dialect well, while not excluding the sensibilities of readers who might be unfamiliar with historical Southern culture. Her descriptions are complete and the dialogs were engaging, always moving the story forward. The Land was honored with the Coretta Scott King Award and the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction. It is also a prequel to a Newbery Medal Winner (Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry).
Mildred D. Taylor based this book off of her own family history, retelling the stories she heard from her father about her ancestors. As a minority voice telling her family’s story, the depictions are likely unbiased and authentic. Her characters do not seem to be stereotypes or caricatures; she seems to give positive and negative examples of human nature and behavior from both racial groups, without overly victimizing or villainizing.
The main character is a pre-teen when the story picks up, so the book is probably very appealing to a middle school audience on the low end, but young adult readers will not feel alienated by juvenile content either. The story is universally appealing because most readers can identify with the importance of working toward a dream and finding a place where you feel you belong. Biracial readers may also be especially interested as they may identify with Paul Logan’s frustrations of not fitting in well with either racial group.
The Land was an enjoyable read. I was not initially compelled by the plot because the conflict was not obvious to me at first, but I was very engrossed in the characters. The conclusion choked me up a little, with empathy for Paul and the near loss of the land. I admired Paul’s composure at times when he was frustrated with injustice and held his tongue. I am glad that I read this book, because it was a very nice, complete story. However, I’m not sure that I would recommend it specifically to anyone in particular in my life for recreational reading, mainly because it didn’t jump out at me as an earth-shattering experience. I think its potential for use in the classroom, on the other hand, is very rich.