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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Mighty Inside’ features brilliant story, great imagery

By Sylvie Manz For The Spokesman-Review

In the past couple of years, there has been a special focus on multicultural and anti-racism literature. Sundee Frazier brings us an incredible novel that you can add to your collection. If you need any persuasion, here you go: It’s set in 1950s Spokane.

“Mighty Inside” opens with Melvin Robinson about to start high school, which, as you may know, can be an overwhelming and stress-inducing experience. The two cherries on top of this sundae are his stutter, which Melvin’s had since elementary, and the color of his skin, he’s Black. Melvin quickly does the don’ts on his brother’s list of do’s and don’ts to succeed in high school. Mainly, he becomes friends with another square, Lenny, who’s Jewish.

Lenny plays saxophone in the school band and soon persuades Melvin (who plays the accordion, much to his chagrin) to come to the Harlem Club, where he lives and his mom works, to have a jam session. In 1951, Spokane’s Harlem Club burned because of faulty wiring, so Frazier is using some artistic freedom, but it pays off. Even though it’s owned by an African American – in the book and real life – it has a bad rap in Spokane’s African American community: It has a strict whites-only policy, save Sunday and Monday nights. This doesn’t keep Melvin from hanging out with Lenny, and they soon bond through music, especially jazz.

Also addressed in the book is some of the fallout of World War II – Millie Takazawa’s family, the girl Melvin has a crush on, was taken to a Japanese American internment camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. People are also preparing for a nuclear attack – Melvin’s grandmother has him and his sister clean out her basement to make a bomb shelter, and in class they are shown videos of nuclear bomb testing.

In her author’s note, Frazier says the idea for the story came when her grandparents told her the trouble they went to to get their house. Because of “gentlemen’s agreements” between bankers and real estate agents to not sell houses or approve loans to African Americans, they found a white man to pose as a buyer and got the house. This part of the book, along with other conversations it has about race, reminded me of “A Raisin in the Sun,” by Lorraine Hansberry, about an African American family in Chicago around the same time.

This book knocked my socks off. Going into this, I knew it would be fun reading it because it’s set in Spokane. Frazier has a lot of great imagery, in addition to the brilliant story – which would be just as good set in any city. It’s about being different – and that it’s OK to be different. And, most importantly, that you don’t have to change to find your people.

Sylvie Manz is a sophomore at Lewis and Clark High School.