Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones

 “It was the end of summer, a summer during a two-year nightmare. African American children around Atlanta were vanishing, and twenty-nine would be murdered by the end of 1981.”  When I read the synopsis of this book I knew I had to listen to it.  Even though I was young, I clearly remember my parents talking about the Atlanta child murders.

This book is told through the eyes of fifth grade classmates, Tasha Baxter, Rodney Green and Octavia Harrison. When the book opens it is the start of a new school year and we are first introduced to Tasha Baxter, who is your typical preteen girl struggling to fit in with her peers while trying to cope with her parent’s recent separation.  One evening while Tasha, her mother and sister are having dinner and watching the news the faces of nine African American children flash across the screen, all of them had been abducted and possibly murdered.  The abductions hit close to home for Tasha when one of her classmates becomes the next victim.

Rodney Green is the quiet boy in class who has been feeling invisible since the birth of his 5-year-old sister. In his father’s eyes Rodney cannot do anything right. He sometimes wonders what would happen if he suddenly disappeared and if his family would miss him. Rodney‘s only sense of satisfaction comes from stealing candy from the store near his school. Rodney’s candy spree ends when his father finds out he has been stealing. Mr. Green humiliates Rodney by disciplining him in front of his classmates and teacher. Frustrated and embarrassed from the day’s events, Rodney takes an alternate route home. Will he make it home safely or wander into the company of the wrong person?

Finally, we meet Octavia Harrison, ostracized and teased by the majority of her classmates because of her appearance. Octavia has no friends and normally eats lunch alone. The only occasional friend and lunch companion Octavia has is Rodney Green. Octavia is very anxious after the recent abductions of her classmate and neighbor. Octavia ventures to the park one afternoon by herself and has an encounter with a man she thinks is the kidnapper. After this incident, Octavia’s mom is extremely afraid for her daughter’s safety and sends her to South Carolina with her father.

I thoroughly enjoyed this audio book. Author Tayari Jones paints a vivid picture of the characters, events and settings while the narrator brings it to life. I was easily pulled into the world of these fifth graders and I felt like I was one of their fellow classmates. While listening to this book I was fearful for the children and parents and hopeful that the missing children would be found unharmed.

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