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Down Sand Mountain

Review

Down Sand Mountain

In 1966, 12-year-old Dewey Turner lives in Florida with his mom, dad, older brother Wayne, little sister Tink, and their loveable dog, Susie. Dewey hasn’t had the best of luck with popularity; last year, kids tormented him with catching “Deweyitis.” But he’s positive that this coming school year will be different. He starts at the junior/ senior high school where Wayne is a year ahead of him. And it is different --- it’s worse!

Just before school starts, the family goes to see the Rotary Club minstrel show. Dewey is fascinated with a song-and-dance act performed by one of his classmates whose face is blackened with makeup. At the time, he doesn’t realize that the routine taunts African Americans. When he gets home, he applies shoe polish to his face and attempts his own song and dance. What he doesn’t know is that the shoe polish won’t wash off. The new school year starts off badly, to say the least! He definitely attracts attention, just not the kind he wants, especially from two bullies.

Dewey does have one or two bright spots, the most important of which is meeting Darla Turkel. She is not very popular either but doesn’t seem to care. She wears her hair like Shirley Temple and, without warning, breaks out into song-and-dance routines of her own. In fact, her mom teaches dance lessons, and Dewey decides to sign up to get ready for next year’s minstrel show. Darla is strange and unusual, but hanging out with her proves to be quite an experience. She invites him to sneak out at midnight to investigate the haunted hotel and even asks him if he’d like to kiss her.

The latter request stirs a lot of confusion in Dewey, only one of many items doing so. The Vietnam War is raging, and racial tensions have every one nervous and in turmoil. Dewey’s father decides to run for an election and insists Dewey and Wayne venture down to where the African Americans live to hand out flyers, but the two aren’t welcome there. And then Dewey comes face to face with a huge decision when a prank goes completely out of control. Should he turn in his brother’s friend to save his own skin?

Steve Watkins has brought us an amazing story about growing up, discovering oneself, and human beings craving respect. It whisks readers back to the turbulent 1960s, to a time people should never forget for the lessons learned. And the character of Dewey Turner portrays the perfect escort back to the ’60s, being sensitive and curious, likable and relatable. Watkins has a special writing style that invites teens right into the very heart and soul of Dewey. He has penned a remarkable story, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if DOWN SAND MOUNTAIN wins many awards.

Reviewed by Chris Shanley-Dillman on October 14, 2008

Down Sand Mountain
by Steve Watkins

  • Publication Date: October 14, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • ISBN-10: 0763638390
  • ISBN-13: 9780763638399