Walking with Miss Millie: 12/04/17
Walking with Miss Millie by Tamara Bundy is set in 1968 in Rainbow, Georgia. Alice, her brother and mother have recently moved into her grandmother's house to help her live with her worsening dementia. Alice misses her friend and resents that she now has to be her brother's keeper as he is deaf and has been pulled out of his special school, into a public school that can't provide an ASL translator.
Next door to grandma's house is Millie Mills — who as she's an elderly widow I would call Mrs. Mills. But this is Georgia and Millie is Black — the only one in the neighborhood. She had worked in the house as a housekeeper and when the White owner died, she left the house to Millie.
Millie is a lot like the elderly neighbor who teaches Armstrong the basics of running a business. The different in those two books, is that Armstrong's mentor is one of age to youth — and not the trope of wise Black person to naive White child. Were the story only about what Alice learns from Millie I would be rating the book with few stars.
But there is Alice's deaf brother and her relationship to him. Here in Rainbow he spends a lot of his time in his own world. He likes to play bus — and carries around a plate that he uses to drive. The odd behavior combined with his silence and apparent inattention makes him appear autistic. A lot of this book is Alice getting over the anger of her situation and the growing realization of her brother's isolation and a growing empathy.
Next there is Alice's relationship with the bullies of the block. There are a group of brothers who torment her and her brother. They hide her bike. The call her brother names. They also happen to have a sister who has become friends with Alice. Through the sister and the younger brother who isn't as hell bent on bullying as the older boys, Alice comes to understand why the older brothers are as awful as they are. It comes down to a mixture of poverty and child abuse.
So it's for the world building of this neighborhood in fictional Rainbow that the book earns its five stars. I also happened to listen to the audiobook, read by Catherine Taber. Her performance definitely added depth to this novel.