This story really surprised me. Things didn’t develop at all as I was expecting them to, which seems surely intentional on Packer’s part. In its most basic form, this is the story of an African-American fourth grade Brownie troop who are surprised to find a group of white girls (Troop 909) at their camp one summer. When one of the the girls in troupe 909 supposedly uses the “n word,” the protagonists decide to beat up each and every one of the white girls in revenge. Things develop in unexpected ways.
But the story is about more than that. Packer has deftly captured the strange societal politics of preteen girls, with their casual cruelty and mob mentality keeping the pecking order firmly enforced. As for the white girls, we only see them through the eyes of the protagonists, and our perception of them is fully shaped by those girls’ own knee-jerk misconceptions and their own tendencies to stereotype.
Reverse racism is a theme here, as is religion, race and disability. That’s a lot of themes to shuffle into one story, but the author does a wonderful job of making everything flow and synthesize. I think where she really excels is the details: the offhand way she lets the reader know we’re in the 1980s (Chic jeans, “Karma Chameleon”,) the description of body language and hierarchical girl-speak, subtle inclusion of sensory details such as smells and a surprising depth of character information imparted in such a short number of pages. Packer pulled me right into her world with these details, so that I forgot for a brief time that I was reading a story and not watching the events unfold.
Until I was making my list for this challenge, I’d never heard of ZZ Packer. This was a wonderful, believable story with great details and multiple serious lessens that still manages not to feel preachy. I’m definitely interested in reading more from this author.