Books: Fiction

Being Clem

Book — Fiction. By Lesa Cline-Ransome. 2021. 256 pages.
The final novel in the award-winning Finding Langston trilogy, this novel examines mid-twentieth century America through the eyes of Clem, a young boy whose family is torn apart after his father's untimely death.
Time Periods: Cold War: 1945 - 1960
Themes: African American, Education, Racism & Racial Identity

Black boy swimming, book cover of Being ClemThe third book in a must-read middle-school trilogy of historical-fiction, Being Clem is set in World War II era Chicago. African American protagonist Clem is 9-years-old when his father dies in the Port Chicago Disaster, a munitions explosion at a seaport in California. Not only are 320 sailors (most African American) killed, but their families’ lives are also torn apart.

Racism contributed to the disaster and it delayed any support for the families. Clem’s mother can barely make ends meet and Clem has to figure out how to move forward in a household filled with grief and uncertainty. Cline-Ransome introduces history that is too often left out of textbooks, such as the role of the Black press, the Great Migration, racism in the North, Black community associations, Black schools, and Black swimming pools. In each case, the examples are specific to the city with the Chicago Defender, the DuSable High School Swim Team, the Bud Billiken Parade, and much more. She layers that history with a moving story about a young boy shaping his identity.

Clem is a warm and sensitive child who cries easily and gets teased at school. Through what seems like a lucky break, he becomes friends with two bullies who provide him a safety net. But he soon realizes the cost to his own values and has to figure out how to be strong without victimizing others. As in all her books, Cline-Ransome does not over-simplify the bullies, instead she alludes to the conditions of domestic abuse that contribute to their behavior. Being Clem can help young people to see how identity is influenced by racism and sexism — and how to shape a more just path forward. [Description from Rethinking Schools.]

ISBN: 9780823446049 | Holiday House

This is the third book of a trilogy written by Lesa Cline-Ransome. The earlier books in this trilogy are Finding Langston and Leaving Lymon.

Read an excerpt from the book here, and find reviews about the book below.

Cline-Ransome’s mastery of first person narration and her gift for dialogue present a close-up look at Chicago’s African American community in the 1940s. . . . While readers will miss this group of Cline-Ransome’s memorable characters, Clem’s story is a satisfying end to the series. —The Horn Book, Starred Review

Like the other two entries, this novel with its parallel narrative addresses tough situations with care, including parental grief and depression, the threat of eviction, domestic abuse, the emotional and physical abuse of children, the impact of racism, and negotiating problematic friendships. A compelling work whose intriguing characters readers will miss when they turn the last page. —Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

Cline-Ransome incorporates events of mid-century American history so seamlessly, young readers may not realize they’re absorbing real historical facts. . . . Works beautifully as a stand-alone or as a companion to the earlier novels in the trilogy. —Shelf Awareness

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