On a southern farm in 1925, young Salvatore and his Italian family are caught up in the murder of one of their family friends. Their small town of Freedom, Louisiana is infiltrated by the Mob. What do these men want? Why are they sneaking around Sal’s farm? And why did they rope Sal’s father into aiding their nefarious schemes?
Sal’s world turns upside-down as he uncovers bootlegging and police corruption. His best friend, Antonina bravely faces danger with Sal as they work to unravel the mysteries in their town. And their lives are intertwined with the hatred that Sal’s family faces after his father is put in jail for the murder.
The Other Side of Freedom is a gripping coming-of-age story. Sal wrestles with telling the truth and keeping a promise as any 13-year-old would. Their farmhand, Hiram is an African-American friend who is a steadying influence on Sal, though he encounters the same bigotry in their small town. Sal must face the demise of his dreams in order to save his family.
This book is a great introduction to the tough questions of poverty, race relations, loyalty, and doing the right thing for kids in fourth grade and up. I love the discussion questions at the end, as well as the letter from the author which explains her family history as the grandchild of Italian immigrants. As we strive to teach our children that everyone feels like an outsider at times, this book is a great companion to walk with them on their journey and teach them that morals matter more than skin color or family heritage.