Review of Being Clem

Being Clem [Finding Langston]
by Lesa Cline-Ransome
Intermediate, Middle School    Holiday    256 pp.    g
8/21    978-0-8234-4604-9    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-8234-4896-8    $10.99

In the final installment of the trilogy (Finding Langston, rev. 9/18; Leaving Lymon, rev. 3/20), we are (re)introduced to Chicago-born Clemson Thurber Junior. Too young to remember his father, Clem has heard all the stories about him, the brave Navy man and amazing swimmer who, as the book opens, becomes a tragic casualty of the 1944 Port Chicago Disaster. As one of the smallest kids in his fourth-grade class and deathly afraid of water, Clem knows he’s not a worthy namesake. Not that there’s much opportunity to prove his courage and independence — problems with a bully are solved when Clem finds himself on the good side of Lymon, the toughest kid in school. But when, in seventh grade, new student Langston arrives and is bullied by Lymon for his “country” ways, Clem finally asserts himself, with welcome results. His friendship with Langston leads him to attend a high-school swim meet, providing the opportunity to decide if he can overcome his fears — and just what kind of brave he can be. Cline-Ransome’s mastery of first-person narration and her gift for dialogue present a close-up look at Chicago’s African ­American community in the 1940s. An author’s note provides additional information about the Port Chicago Disaster, the Chicago Defender newspaper, the Bud Billiken Parade, and the winning DuSable High School swim team. While readers will miss this group of Cline-Ransome’s memorable characters, Clem’s story is a satisfying end to the series.

From the July/August 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Eboni Njoku
Eboni Njoku is a children’s librarian at the Anacostia Neighborhood Library Branch of the DC Public Library.

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