Lesa Cline-Ransome

Finding Langston

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Finding Langston Summary

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In her children’s historical novel, Finding Langston (2018), Lesa Cline-Ransome employs an intimate first-person point of view to tell a story set during the Great Migration when large numbers of African Americans fled the increasingly violent racism in the southern United States for the relative safety and opportunity of the North.

As the story begins, the young narrator, Langston, reminisces about his days living in Alabama, admitting he never imagined he would miss the heat and dust. The class bell rings and he heads to his new home in Chicago, a depressingly small and dirty apartment shared with his father. It is 1946. Langston moved to Chicago with his father after his mother passed away. Langston misses his grandmother, who stayed behind in Alabama. Though he has not spent much time with his father and doesn’t know how to talk to him, he admits that living with his father is better than being alone.

Langston doesn’t like Chicago. He is picked on at school for being “country.” His father moved them there in order to get a job at a paper factory; he believes they are better off than when he had to work as a sharecropper in the racist South. Langston isn’t sure he agrees. He misses his mother and finds Chicago alien. The neighbor downstairs, Miss Fulton, is a teacher. She reminds him of his mother, though he believes his mother would have found her “uppity”; this encapsulates his attitude towards Chicago in general.

After school the next day, Langston is chased by a bully, becoming lost in the unfamiliar city. He wanders until he finds himself outside the George Cleveland Hall Library. In Alabama, libraries were closed to black people, and so he is surprised to see black folks entering freely. When he follows suit, he is even more amazed to find books by black authors and other celebrations of black culture. Perusing the books at random, he is further surprised to see his own name. He has discovered a book by the poet Langston Hughes. Suggesting that he might have been named after the poet, a librarian helps him find more books by Hughes, as well as other books by famous black writers. Reading the poetry of Hughes, he is surprised to find a familiar sense of loneliness and being out-of-place in the work. He decides to find out more.

Langston keeps his discovery of the library a secret from his father; while he knows his mother would have approved, he fears his father will see it as a waste of time. He hides the books he has brought home. He also doesn’t tell his father about the bullying or his general sadness. His father tries to talk to him after cooking them dinner, but it is awkward and difficult. Langston can’t help but compare his father’s cooking to his mother’s unfavorably.

Langston’s father has several letters that his mother wrote to him. Langston sneaks these letters to read them. He finds out he was, in fact, named after Langston Hughes, and that his mother often quoted Hughes’s poetry. Reading her letters makes Langston miss her more, but also makes him feel closer to her. Langston continues to go to the library regularly, both to evade the bullies who still chase him at school and to find more books with the help of the librarian, which he reads voraciously.

Langston’s grandmother passes away, and his father informs him that he will have to return to Alabama for the arrangements. Devastated to learn his grandmother is gone, Langston finally confesses to his father his sadness, loneliness, and about the bullying and his visits to the library. Initially taken aback, his father makes a real effort to speak to Langston about his mother and what they have been going through. He tells Langston that he knows they will have a better life in the North if he keeps working at it, and promises that he will make a better effort to talk with Langston. He also tells Langston to read as much as he likes.

Miss Fulton bakes them a pie so the day can end with a little bit of sweetness; this act of kindness makes Langston think better of her. He realizes that their neighbors are all kind people and that he has found a new home in Chicago with his father, thanks in part to the help his mother gave him through her letters and their shared love of the poetry of Langston Hughes. Langston knows that his problems aren’t going away, but he feels a sense of peace about facing them going forward.