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Book cover of Down Sand Mountain

Down Sand Mountain

by Steve Watkins

Publisher: Candlewick Press
ISBN: 9780763638399

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Synopsis of Down Sand Mountain

In a tale full of humor and poignancy, a sheltered twelve-year-old boy comes of age in a small Florida mining town amid the changing mores of the 1960s.

It's 1966 and Dewey Turner is determined to start the school year right. No more being the brunt of every joke. No more "Deweyitis." But after he stains his face with shoe polish trying to mimic the popular Shoeshine Boy at the minstrel show, he begins seventh grade on an even lower rung, earning the nickname Sambo and being barred from the "whites only" bathroom. The only person willing to talk to him, besides his older brother, Wayne, is fellow outsider Darla Turkel, who wears her hair like Shirley Temple and sings and dances like her, too. Through their friendship, Dewey gains awareness of issues bigger than himself and bigger than his small town of Sand Mountain: issues like race and segregation, the reality of the Vietnam War, abuse, sexuality, and even death and grieving. Written in a riveting, authentic voice, at times light-hearted and humorous and at others devastating and lonely, this deeply affecting story will stay with readers long after the book is closed.

Children's Literature

Dewey is set to start seventh grade, and in spite of his worries, this year everything is going to be different—no Deweyitis, no teasing, no being the butt of everyone's jokes. Unfortunately, the first day of school and following days and weeks are downright awful. Dewey (hoping to be the shoeshine boy in next year's minstrel show) smears his face with shoe polish; it goes on much easier than it comes off. Now he is known as Sambo, and the school bullies will not let him use the bathroom; it is "white's only." If Dewey thought the first day of school was the worst day of his life, he is learning that that is not necessarily so. "Then I thought the night me and Wayne and Darla snuck out to the Skeleton Hotel was the worst day of my life. Then...the day Dad made me and Wayne pass out campaign flyers in the Boogerbottom and the colored kids chased us was the worst day." Then, there is the day he is accused of poisoning the school bully. There is one thing Dewey knows now: "I was pretty sure that there were going to be still more worst days..." Set in Florida in a small, blue-collar town in the mid 1960s, this coming-of-age novel addresses the issues of racism, segregation, budding sexuality, war, and death. Told in first person, readers will be touched as Dewey struggles to come to grips with the reality of the world around him. Reviewer: Anita Barnes Lowen

About the Author, Steve Watkins

Steve Watkins, an associate professor at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia, is a short-story writer and winner of a Pushcart Prize. He lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

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