Foreword Reviews

Redemption in the Morning

Clarion Rating: 3 out of 5

A Southern man’s coming of age is marked by his struggles against white supremacy in the historical novel Redemption in the Morning.

In Phillip Lyman’s robust historical novel Redemption in the Morning, two men refine their ideals against the backdrop of the civil rights movement in the American South.

While growing up together in their segregated town, Johnnie and Edwards, both white, butt heads when it comes to politics. And Johnnie’s desire to fit in with popular kids proves to be at odds with his sense of justice. Still, the boys attend middle and high school together, maneuvering puberty, education, family matters, and troublemaking. Their friendship ebbs and flows until 1965, when they are both drafted into the Vietnam War.

In the course of the war, and with JFK’s powerful statement about patriotic service reverberating in his head, Johnnie begins to question the racism that he observed while growing up. He begins to fight not for the state, but for its people. Edwards, meanwhile, does the opposite, committing atrocities that disgust Johnnie. When the men return home, they grapple with the implications of their choices. They also settle into jobs and start families. Later, new tragedies pull them toward social and criminal justice, with Johnnie debating keeping his progressive views quiet but still electing to stand against racism when he feels that it’s been pushed too far.

Early on in the book, the period and its culture are depicted in a piecemeal fashion, resulting in a slow-moving but detail-rich story. Later, the narrative expands beyond Johnnie, Edwards, and their neighbors to include discussions between political leaders, as when John and Bobby Kennedy are seen talking about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Though such moments flesh out the timeline, they exist at an emotional distance from the central stories of Johnnie and his friends.

The book’s conversations are also too didactic. They are used to explain historical facts and context, as with a teacher’s long explanation of the slave trade to answer a question following JFK’s assassination. The book is more compelling when it sticks to tracing Johnnie’s moral development, which expands as he navigates intimate physical and mental threats.

The narrative’s admonishments of racism and white supremacy clash with its frequent, period-authentic use of racial slurs. And its Black characters come and go, with some people appearing in single scenes alone, and for the express purpose of advancing the book’s antiracist message. The book’s women are also presented as archetypes more than as individuals in their own rights. Conversely, Johnnie is fleshed out well: he is inquisitive and intelligent, with a clear and deep family story that helps him to stand out.

A Southern man’s coming of age is marked by his struggles against white supremacy in the historical novel Redemption in the Morning.

Reviewed by Aimee Jodoin

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The publisher of this book provided free copies of the book and paid a small fee to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. Foreword Reviews and Clarion Reviews make no guarantee that the publisher will receive a positive review. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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