In the midst of the Civil War, a young girl named Claire, is about to have her safe, comfortable world shaken. Lincoln has announced the beginning of a draft. However, if you could pay $300.00, basically the equivalent of a working person’s year salary, you could avoid it. Or get a substitute to go for you. The working class of New York City had no way to pay that kind of money, or pay someone to go for them.
Claire is biracial – her mother is an Irish immigrant and her father a free black man. They have plans to buy the inn they work in, hopefully soon in the future. However, when we first meet Claire and her family, there is unrest in the city streets. Irish immigrants, worrying of the possible influx of free blacks from the south who will compete for the few jobs there are, and feeling the unfairness of the draft policies, begin rioting against any wealthy or black people they see walking on the streets.
For Claire, who has had both Irish and black friends growing up, the first time someone comes at her because she is mixed is a shock to her. She begins to question how her family has gone on as they have and wonders what will happen when the riots are finally put down. Will things ever go back to the way they were?
Riot by Walter Dean Myers looks at the beginning of segregation in New York City, and the seeds for divisions between races and class. Told in a screenplay style, this novel is a quick read about a very tumultuous time in our country’s history.
Recommended for grades 6 and up.