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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
I Want to Go! is an historical fiction novel for children and preteens written by Denise Montgomery. October, 1965 meant something very special to Rene Thompson. She would be ten years old and finally old enough to be allowed to go to the State Fair. The last year had been an agony of anticipation waiting for this year’s Negro Achievement Day to finally arrive -- that day when African Americans were allowed to stroll through the fairgrounds, ride the Ferris Wheel and other rides, and sample the cotton candy and other fair delicacies. Rene had been scrimping and saving all year long so she could go with her own supply of money. She babysat for Mrs. Jenkins’ disgusting and smelly kids and finally saw the money in her savings can reach her goal of $25. The unrest and racial tension in the South, however, had people in town wondering if it was even safe to take a family to Dallas for the fair this year. Rene’s teachers had taught her about Dr. King’s march and his fight for voting rights for people of color, and the resulting discord that had arisen. As awful as it seemed that the police would beat protesters simply because of the color of their skin, Rene couldn’t get her mind around the idea that, after having waited until she was 10, she might have to miss out on the fair after all. It just didn’t seem fair.
Denise Montgomery’s I Want to Go! is a beautifully written and infinitely sobering look at life for a young black girl and her family in the deep South during the 1960s. One can’t help but feel for Rene’s rising sense of frustration at the thought of her rite of passage, finally setting foot within the State fairgrounds as her older sister and brother had before her, being taken away just as it seemed to be just around the corner. The church and church supper scenes are lovely and unforgettable, and those exciting yet tense trips Rene and her family take to Dallas to visit her grandmother show so eloquently the awfulness of the racial tensions of the time. One can’t help but feel her despair at their treatment and share the anger of her older sister at the hatred spewed by another driver for the family’s presence on the road. And while I’ve read accounts of that time and place, I can honestly say I didn’t comprehend just how hard it must have been for those who, like Rene, actually lived it.
Montgomery’s story is a compelling one. Her characters, especially the effervescent and infinitely hopeful Rene and her best friend, James, are marvelous, finely detailed and very much alive. The plot blends history with a particularly poignant coming of age story. While this is geared toward children and preteens, I wouldn’t hesitate recommending it for high school students and adults. Rene’s story is too important for us all not to know about it. I Want to Go! is most highly recommended.