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Book Review: A Lesson Before Dying By Ernest J. Gaines

A Lesson Before Dying

"I was crying."
As I read the last sentence of A Lesson Before Dying, my heart ached for Jefferson, for Ms. Emma, for Reverend Ambrose, for the people in the quarter, for myself, for my children, for the world...

I started reading A Lesson Before Dying to determine if I would use it for my class this summer.  I knew that this was a popular book.  However, I decided not to research about the book and just began with the first page. The first line started...
I WAS NOT THERE, yet I was there.
Was Gaines predicting how I would feel once I read this book? I now know Gaines knew that I would feel this way.

Set in the 1940s, Gaines wrote about a common trend during this time.  A common trend of executing African Americans based on association and based on being at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Similar to the story of George Stinney, Jr, Gaines followed Jefferson's life from the moment it took a drastic turn until the sealing of his demise.

Gaines ability to place you in the novel transformed my desire to just read and finish the book into a defined desire to understand the numerous lessons entangled within the words written on each page.

I zoned in immediately to figure out the significance of title.  Why is the book named A Lesson Before Dying? My first assumption was the lesson that the Professor was assigned to teach Jefferson. Yet, I soon discovered that Jefferson's lesson was not the only one.  So many lessons can be taken from this book.

Furthermore, this book forced me to start to think of my role as an English instructor.  What lessons do I want my students to gain beyond "reading, writing, and 'arithmetic," and what lessons do I need to gain from my students?

I am left wondering exactly what happened in the quarter after the major event took place.   Even though this book is fictional, the unfolding of the novel seemed so real.

I definitely will be reading this book with my students this summer. I hope you add this book to your "To Be Read" pile. This book is definitely an amazing and riveting PIECE OF WORK.

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