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Yesterday’s Children demands we take an inward look at our American character, as measured by enduring social conventions, value systems, and the effects of past transgressions.
Welcome to the Deep South, period 1960s, where the normal quietude of small town life gradually enlivens over a fist fight or salacious rumor, but whips to frenzied excitement during high school football playoffs. Life is easy-going, mostly bland, and determinedly conventional.
Now imagine the stereotypical portrait of a southern community with old line racial segregation and administered by a domineering, plantation-born land-owner, the local judge. Add to the neighborhood a freshly-organized civil rights protest, a growing list of local enlistees shocked by tours in Vietnam, and a stunning biology teacher determined to educate religious fundamentalists on the Theory of Evolution. This community stew is a pressure-cooker set at high temperature about to explode.
In Yesterday’s Children, author Bellerive introduces a cast of strong-willed but commonly conservative southern white characters then pulls the reader headlong through public streets, the town square, fix-it garages, court rooms, eateries, theaters, practice fields, and swimming holes to live the daily lives of the townsfolk. Life of the other side of the tracks is exposed as well when emboldened characters improbably venture into the black neighborhood.
Suffice to say, Mr. Bellerive writes close to the bone of social reality based on real experience, and with an emotional touch laced with sequences of sincere contemplation. Yesterday’s Children is a highly original composition set in a place the author knows well, and written in a style befitting southern characters, comparable to Harper Lee’s, To Kill a Mockingbird.
The story is bold, truthful, character-centric, socially enlightening, and expressive. Bellerive fluently directs the narration full-circle from the perspective of an older man looking back fifty years to his freshman year in high school. The boy has moved with his working class family from northern Ohio to a southern Louisiana community, which he finds culturally unfamiliar and oddly connected to the mannerisms of the Old Confederacy through generational tradition. The locals are wary of newcomers, but he tries to fit-in, despite common coming-of-age troubles that coincide with an unexpected wave of social change confronting young and old alike.
Yesterday’s Children is consequential for its take on youth. Forced to open their eyes to discrimination at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, they see friends and relatives openly divided on neglected issues as pragmatic as voters’ rights. Simultaneously, these wide-eyed teens observe the suffering of fathers and older brothers from war in Vietnam, an unknown country far from Main Street. Inevitably, the ingredients of highly complex and disagreeable issues simmer and heat to a boil. The otherwise kindly citizens and concerned family members turn against one another for professing divergent opinions or seeking redress of ignored grievances.
Some may say that mankind’s greatest leaps spring from great pain and suffering. If so, Yesterday’s Children proves a commensurate tragedy may be required to move the tides of narrow-minded humanity. In Yesterday’s Children, Paul Bellerive exposes conditions that led a community to social stagnation and an inability to move forward without the compelling misfortune of catastrophe.