Imag­in­ing Katherine

Car­ol Solomon
  • Review
By – July 13, 2016

Imag­in­ing Kather­ine is a com­ing-of-age sto­ry which takes read­ers through the junior high school years of Kather­ine Wein­stein, a Jew­ish girl grow­ing up in the Bal­ti­more area in the ear­ly 1960s.

At the start of the sto­ry, Kather­ine’s cares are sur­face and per­son­al; she wor­ries about fit­ting in with the trendy girls, stews over a rude encounter with a grab­by boy class­mate and has a fight with her best friend Genevieve. An aspir­ing writer and per­former, Kather­ine also yearns for a life that is larg­er than that of her moth­er’s — an exhaust­ed house­wife sad­dled by car­ing for four children.

Despite a vague aware­ness of the hos­tile racial cli­mate in the south, Kather­ine feels far removed from it. As a Jew­ish girl liv­ing in the sub­urbs, seg­re­ga­tion and Civ­il Rights has­n’t yet direct­ly impact­ed her. But in ninth grade, Char­lotte, an African-Amer­i­can stu­dent, begins school and soon Kather­ine’s bliss­ful igno­rance bursts, as she wit­ness­es the bla­tant racism and threats direct­ed at her new friend and her fam­i­ly, as well as allies such as Genevieve’s father, a Jew­ish real estate agent ostra­cized for sell­ing a house in the neigh­bor­hood to Char­lot­te’s fam­i­ly. Kather­ine is shocked that the com­mu­ni­ty, which once felt so safe and mun­dane, could har­bor such hatred. 

Soon Kather­ine learns that the prob­lem is more insid­i­ous and har­row­ing, and she quick­ly real­izes that the fight for social injus­tice extends beyond a sus­pen­sion for singing peace-pro­mot­ing Bob Dylan songs with her friends in the school cafe­te­ria. Despite the dis­ap­proval of her par­ents, Kather­ine becomes involved in the local anti-seg­re­ga­tion protest and won’t stop no mat­ter what the dan­ger­ous repercussions. 

Imag­in­ing Kather­ine pro­vides a his­to­ry les­son with an engag­ing sto­ry for young adult read­ers. Although the top­ic of racism, seg­re­ga­tion and the Civ­il Rights move­ment is at the fore­front, the book tack­les some oth­er heavy top­ics includ­ing a male friend’s sex­u­al abuse by a teacher, and the after­math of the Holo­caust for Jews in Amer­i­ca. Though apt for the time and set­ting, the book does occa­sion­al­ly fea­ture deroga­to­ry racist language.

The author includes a list of his­tor­i­cal ele­ments which inspired the sto­ry as well as some thought-pro­vok­ing dis­cus­sion ques­tions appro­pri­ate for class­es and book clubs. Also fea­tured is a glos­sary list­ing the hand­ful of Yid­dish terms sprin­kled through­out the book and his­tor­i­cal, polit­i­cal and enter­tain­ment-relat­ed ref­er­ences and fig­ures men­tioned in the story.

Rec­om­mend­ed for ages 11 – 18.

Jil­lian Bietz stud­ied library tech­nol­o­gy and research skills and cur­rent­ly works in the library sys­tem. She is a book review­er for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and Kirkus Review Indie. Jil­lian lives in South­ern California.

Discussion Questions