There is a sense of satisfaction when you reach the conclusion of this novel, but there is a lot of sorrow—especially since the unfairness of racism rears its ugly head in a time when even murder couldn’t change the way white people thought.
Joe Howard Wilson is on his way home from serving in the Second World War, decorated with medals for his service—and seated at the back of the bus in the colored section. At an unplanned stop in Alabama, a few POWs are let on the bus and Joe Howard is asked to give up his seat for them. Realizing that this is the last straw for him, Joe Howard refuses and dares to talk back. When the driver lets him have his way, the bus continues on but stops a short while later, only to deposit Joe Howard and leave him stranded amongst a gang of white folk, who beat him to death.
His father, known as Willie Willie, wants justice for his boy and will stop at nothing to get it. More than a year later, the woman Willie Willie works for decides she can get a good lawyer from New York to visit Mississippi and re-open the case that closed with a dead end. She sends a letter asking the law firm in New York to solve this murder and the one person who is just itching to solve this is none other than a woman lawyer, who also happens to be black. In 1946, being a black lawyer was rare enough but a female one was an anomaly and Regina Robichard decides she can take on the challenge. She also notices that the woman who sent the note is the very same famous writer who wrote a story (the Secret of Magic), which was banned in Mississippi because of its controversial content. Regina is familiar with the book because it almost became a Bible for her when she was young. She is familiar with racist crimes too, as her Daddy was the victim of lynching, even before she was born.
When Regina is finally in Mississippi, she starts living the harsh realities that she could only imagine back in New York. Finding the truth will be more work and trickier than she thought but it will also endanger her own life if she is not careful. Does Willie Willie get his reward? Regina certainly pushes as hard as she can to make it happen but sometimes the law has to be fought in different ways to be acknowledged.
I love novels that are set in the South and particularly ones that take place in the past and deal with civil rights. Although I thought it would end differently, it still fed my appetite and I am glad I had a chance to read it.
If you are a member of the library, we have this title currently in Hard copy only. This may or may not change in the future. Please check the catalogue frequently for an update of formats.
If you liked this novel, you may want to read Johnson’s first book called The Air Between Us.
To read reviews on The Secret of Magic, please click on the links below.
From Kirkus Reviews
From Clutch Magazine
For information on Deborah Johnson, click here.
The following questions are posted to help you form opinions about the story:
-What were Joe Howard Wilsons feelings toward the Calhoun family? What were his feelings toward his father, Willie Willie?
-Who was the most courageous character in the book for you, and why? How do you measure courage?
For the rest of the questions, please click on the link below to access them from the Penguin website:
It shows how much I still don’t know about Civil Rights and the important people who made unforgettable impressions. Marshal Thurgood is the head lawyer featured in Regina’s New York law firm. Johnson decided to add his character to the story, to give a realistic taste of the prominent people of that time. For more information on Thurgood Marshal, click here.
This book reminded me of …
I have read quite a few books now that deal with racial issues, so reading Johnson’s work just brought back scenes from The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Elliot Perlman’s The Street Sweeper and The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis because of similar time frames and subject. It also reminded me of Edward Kelsey Moore’s novel, The Supremes at Earle’s All-You-Can-Eat. The last one I thought of was Telling the Bees by Peggy Hesketh, only since there is a murder that needs to be solved and the main character wants to find justice for what happened.
Favorite quote from book:
“She started up the driveway, more aware than she’d been since she got here of where she was and of everything around her. Sloping green lawn, a big white house, white tablecloths, white faces. As Regina drew nearer, conversation faltered, then stopped altogether, as though she’d turned into a brown cork that, popping along, plugged cheerful words back up into people’s throats.” (p. 289)
Most eerie moment in the story:
When Regina finally has that conversation with Wynne and she finds out who was responsible for Joe Howard Wilson’s death. (p. 322)
Next month’s title:
Fin & Lady by Cathleen Schine