An Interracial Friendship Goes Tragically Wrong In This Powerful Historical Novel Set In The Jim Crow South

‘For Lamb’ cover (Holiday House), by Lesa-Cline Ransome.

Released on January 10, 2023, award-winning author Lesa Cline-Ransom released her first YA Novel ‘For Lamb’ (Holiday House), a powerful story that pays homage to the female victims of racial violence.

Told in multiple points of view, ‘For Lamb’ follows a family striving to better their lives in 1940s Jackson, Mississippi. Lamb’s mother is a hardworking and strong-willed seamstress who is doing all she can to keep her son and daughter safe in the only way she knows how. Lamb’s bother has a brilliant mind and has even earned a college scholarship up north, but he is impatient for progress coming too slowly to his community. Lamb herself is a quiet and studious girl who always follows the rules. Lamb is also naïve. She is trying to please her family, but her decision to secretly begin a friendship with a lonely and friendly white girl who loaned her a book she loves, sets off a calamitous series of events that will ensnare Lamb’s entire family and end in a lynching.

Lesa’s initial inspiration for ‘For Lamb’ came during a trip to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice to deepen her understanding of one of the most painful chapters in the history of the United States. “The heart-wrenching stories of Black men were what brought me there… but with men’s stories were those of female lynching victims, whose stories have often gone untold,” she explained in an author’s note. “I knew I had to memorialize these women in a story.”

Navigating the complexities of family relationships, life-altering secrets, and self-exploration, Lesa has crafted a riveting story to honor female victims of white supremacy with nuance and grace. Below is an excerpt from the beginning of the novel, published here with permission.


PROLOGUE

And then, there, there in the torchlight, I see her. Pressed in close against the others. Her face red as a fever sweat. Hair bright as a flame. My friend. 

When the men let her go, I hear branches snapping and watch the crowd move closer. I search again for my friend, but I can’t hardly tell one from the other in this crowd. Pressed in tight, each one of those white faces looks just like the next. Smiling through shiny white teeth like a pack of hungry dogs. 

Simeon is long gone now, I suspect. Far.
North.
Safe. 

From this. From them. From all of it. 

A branch cracks as loud as a gunshot and the crowd cheers. I stay hidden behind the bush, just past the fence, and look up through the leaves at the dark. Not a star in the sky tonight. But the flickers of gold from the embers light up the sky in what looks like fireflies. Pretty almost. 

Lamb

“The choir will lead us in our devotional hymn,” Reverend Greer said, and sat down behind the pulpit. 

Soon as I heard the first note on the piano, the sweat started under my arms. In the back row of the youth choir during rehearsal every Saturday morning with everyone’s voice singing on top of mine, I didn’t know Miss Twyman even knew I could carry a tune. But one Sunday, after service, Miss Twyman told Momma I had a “lovely voice,” and Momma told Miss Twyman she already knew that but was surprised Miss Twyman was just finding out. And now, since she knew, my momma said, couldn’t Miss Twyman find a way to let me lead next week’s devotional hymn? Momma has a way of asking that lets you know she’s not asking at all. And now, here I was leading, when all I wanted was to follow, singing along quiet, in the back, with the rest of the choir. There were days, listening to Momma, I could make my ownself believe near anything she believed about me. Not today. 

At breakfast this morning, when she was braiding up my hair, she could tell I was getting the scared feeling I always get when I have to be up in front of people. 

“Now Miss Twyman wouldn’t have you up there looking like a fool if you couldn’t sing. You know that,” Momma said, pulling my braid tight. 

“Miss Twyman says everybody has a lovely voice,” I told her. “Not just me.” 

“I don’t know about everybody. She was just talking ’bout you.” 

In the back was where I felt I belonged, looking at Juanita Handy’s curly ponytail, swaying from side to side while she sang all the youth choir solos. Every once in a while her voice would crack when she tried to reach too high for a note, and Earvent would hit my hand or one of the boys in back would laugh, but I kept looking straight ahead, wishing I was brave enough to stand up every time like Juanita, not caring if my voice cracked or not, but knowing, like Juanita always did, that up front was just where I was meant to be. 

Now standing alone with the choir behind me, I was too scared to be mad at Momma. Just needed to get through one song and be done. Let Momma see I ain’t never been and never would be a soloist. I could almost feel Juanita Handy’s eyes staring in the back of my head. I could hear her sweet voice hitting those notes right and know she was wondering what I was doing in her spot. I wished I could tell her to go ask my momma. The blood was pounding in my ears, louder than the piano, but I came in, 

Would you be free from the burden of sin? 

There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood. 

Too soft, too shaky, I could tell. I looked over at Miss Twyman and she pinched up her face. I closed my eyes tight. 

“Sing it, child,” Reverend Greer said beside me. I opened my eyes and looked out into the pews. Staring back at me was Simeon, grin stretched from one end of his face to the other. He saw me looking and nodded his head, telling me to go on ahead, give it some more. So I did. Now the front pew chimed in. 

“Yes, yes, Lord” and “That’s right” mixed in with the song, and I looked over at Miss Twyman, watching her hands tell my mouth what to do. She smiled up at me. 

There is pow’r, pow’r, wonder-working pow’r 

In the blood of the lamb… 

I looked over at Momma swaying, quiet, her head bowed low, one hand raised just above her head. The sweat dripped down my back now. 

In the pews together, when we sang this song from the hymnal, Momma would squeeze my hand, remembering. 

I closed my eyes again. 

Would you o’er evil a victory win? 

There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood. 

After the second verse, Miss Twyman was circling her hand, telling me and the choir to sing the chorus one more time, and this time, my voice got a little louder, a little deeper too. 

Let God move you, Miss Twyman reminded me after yesterday’s rehearsal. And I think I did let God in, and he helped me move from side to side, with the music making my voice stronger as I swayed. I hoped it was God, because Simeon and Momma weren’t gonna be enough to make me sing the song the way it sounded it my head. Just when I was finding my way, the song ended, and the reverend stepped up again to the pulpit. 

“Amen, Sister.” He nodded at me. “A-men . . .” 

I walked to the back row of the choir stand, not looking at Juanita, not hearing any of Reverend Greer’s sermon. Not even Earvent said anything as I made my way over her legs and back to my seat. I just made my lips move along to the rest of the hymns we sang in service, hoping Momma would let me alone now but knowing she never would. 

“You sang that song today, Sister Lamb,” Reverend Greer said after 

service as I stepped down from the choir stand.

“Thank you, Reverend Greer,” I said. My momma stepped up beside me, smiling. Simeon stood behind her, grin still on his face.

“This girl can sing, can’t she, Reverend?” my momma said. Too bold, I thought. My momma is always too bold.
“She sure can,” said Simeon, his head nodding. I hit his hand. 

“Why didn’t I see you up there in the choir, Brother Simeon?” the reverend said, his 

hand slapping down hard on Simeon’s shoulder. 

“Well, uh…God has blessed each one of us with our own special gifts.” Simeon smiled. “Sadly, singing is not mine.”

Momma looked at Simeon, trying, I could tell, to keep smiling and not say what she wanted to say in the House of God and in front of Reverend Greer. 

Reverend nodded his head at Simeon, smiling back. “You are right there, son. Lord knows, some folks sitting in that choir have talents that should be put to use elsewhere in the church. Can I get an Amen, Brother Simeon?” 

“Amen!” Simeon laughed. 

Me and Momma stood watching them. No matter who Simeon talked to, it wasn’t long before he said something to win them over. Everyone except Momma, who stood watching him and smiling for Reverend Greer but not Simeon. 

When we left church and headed home, Momma turned to Simeon. “You can’t let her shine for just one day?” 

“What?”
“Don’t you what me. You always gotta take away her shine?” she said. 

“Momma, I—” I started. 

“You know she was only up there because you made her do it, right? That wasn’t 

nothing about Lamb. That was about trying to make you shine,” he said. 

“Boy, I—” 

“Can we please not do this today?” I asked. “On a Sunday? After church? Please?” 

They were both quiet.
“Well, Amen to that,” Simeon said. 


Excerpt from ‘For Lamb‘ / Text copyright © 2023 by Lesa Cline-Ransome. Reproduced by permission from Holiday House Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

Author Lesa Cline-Ransome

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