Campbell, Isaiah. The Troubles of Johnny Cannon
October 14th 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Johnny has a lot of challenges in his life in 1961 Alabama: his mother is dead, he struggles with injuries from the car crash that killed her, his father was injured in the war, and his brother is off to fight. When a shadowy man from his father's past comes to town, Johnny doesn't trust him, and when his father starts spending a lot more time with the amateur radio, ostensibly making phone calls for soldiers despite the fact that the family may lose their home to the bank, Johnny starts investigating. Add to this the fact that racial tensions are high in their community, and Johnny's budding friendship with Willie, the son of the local preacher and the woman who helps cook for Johnny and his father, draws him into the trouble. Things get really complicated when it turns out that the local barber ran a nightclub in Havana, the local wealthy man owes the barber money, Johnny's father's radio messages are frequently in Spanish, and the Bay of Pigs Invasion is making the headlines. Johnny finds himself drawn into Cuba-American affairs in ways that he never could have begun to imagine.
Strengths: There needs to be more middle grade historical fiction set during this time period, and this does a good job at explaining the events of the time and framing them in an interesting and action packed way. Johnny was a likable character, and even though this dealt with serious issues, it wasn't overly depressing. It was nice to see racially tolerant people depicted during this time period.
Weaknesses: There was a lot going on in the book. While it was nice to see both the Bay of Pigs situation and racial issues covered, it made the book confusing, especially since Johnny is made to play such a large role in historical events. Notes as to actual events, as opposed to the fictitious ones portrayed, would have been helpful. I am not a fan of dialect, so Johnny's speech patterns made the book harder to get through for me personally. I'm still conflicted about the use of "Tigger" to replace a more offensive term.