Louise Collins lives in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, running a boardinghouse called Rooms on Desire. She has to cater to grumpy Mr. Landroux every day, which unfortunately includes taking out his bedpan and serving him all the meals. He loves baseball and gets confused to what day it is or even what year. Her mother is an alcoholic and is very harsh. Life never changes for Louise, only novels take her out of the world she hates.
Then, suddenly, desegregation begins in New Orleans. More specifically, the ninth ward. Ruby Bridges enters Louise’s old school, William Frantz Elementary School. Louise’s mother cannot stand this, and she joins a pro-segregation group called the Cheerleaders. She gathers with other mothers every morning and some afternoons to torment the first African-American student.
Louise Collins does not see this as bad. In fact, she wonders why “the Negro kids wanted to go to such a crummy school.” She does not question that African-Americans should not go to school with whites. It’s just the way things are. She does not know any other way; the only person she knows who supports integration is the governor. Until she meets Morgan Miller. He drives up to Rooms on Desire in a shiny Chevy Bel Air. Morgan is a book editor from New York City but was born in New Orleans. He wants to reconcile with his estranged brother. He comes quietly, his opinions making Louise question herself and others. Morgan understands Louise and cares about what she thinks, unlike her mother. When Louise learns why Morgan came, she has to protect herself, Morgan, and her mother.
I read this book a long time ago, but the power of the story has stayed with me. Louise’s voice is powerful because Robert Sharenow makes her normal, average. Certainly, her intelligence and kindness is above average, but Louise’s perception of segregation is that of the average citizen in 1960’s New Orleans. Her mother’s protests don’t bother her- until Morgan.
I can’t recommend this book more. I gave it a five on goodreads- it is amazing. This is one book I will definitely be buying. I can’t believe that it did not win a Printz honor at least. This is one major contribution to young adult literature. Highly recommended. Named one of the best books of 2007 by School Library Journal, My Mother the Cheerleader is one book you don’t want to miss.