is a young adult historical novel by Donna Jo Napoli, first published in 2009 by Wendy Lamb Books. Inspired by true events, the story takes place in the small town of Tallulah, Louisiana, during the summer of 1899, when a recently arrived Italian immigrant named Calogero "Calo" Scalise has come to live with his uncles and cousins. Racial tensions and anti-immigrant sentiment are rife in Tallulah, and amid the increasing hostility of his new home, fourteen-year-old Calo tries to adjust to American customs and culture.
Calo, the men he calls his uncles, and his cousins are six Sicilian immigrants in the remote bayou community, and they are miles from any other people who look or sound like them. They stick out at a time when prejudice against Sicilians in America is already at an all-time high. Calo's uncles—Francesco, Carlo, and Giuseppe—operate a few stores in the Tallulah area, so they encounter the anti-Sicilian animus on a regular basis.
Despite the bigotry of the townspeople, the family attempts to fit in and do the right thing whenever possible. At one point, Francesco witnesses a local white man bullying his own family. Francesco tries to get him to stop being so unkind, even pulling a gun on the man. Carlo feels Francesco's intervention in the situation is incredibly dangerous and only stokes the fires of hatred already burning strong in Tallulah.
Another reason Francesco is in the crosshairs of the community is his refusal to treat the African American customers of his stores any differently than the white customers. The white people believe themselves superior and demand to be treated as such. Francesco disagrees and continues treating both black and white customers the same. The town's doctor, Dr. Hodge, also has a bone to pick with Francesco; the shopkeeper won't do anything to corral the goats he owns, so the goats trample along Dr. Hodge's porch all night, keeping him awake.
With Dr. Hodge's anger building and his temper reaching a breaking point, the white people of Tallulah ramp up their racist taunts toward Calo and his family. Calo's family has no problem befriending the black folks in town and treating them as equal to the whites. The whites, however, feel that by doing this, Calo's family is stirring unrest and dissatisfaction among the people of color, provoking their hostilities over repeatedly being oppressed and terrorized by the whites.
As this trouble brews, Calo attempts to figure out the strangeness of American customs. He also misses his little brother, Rocco, who remains back in Sicily.
After yet another sleepless night, Dr. Hodge explodes, killing Francesco's goats. Though this development greatly saddens Francesco, he does not lash out at Dr. Hodge. His brother, Carlo, however—normally the peaceful one—unleashes a verbal tirade on the doctor. Dr. Hodge responds in fury and physically attacks Carlo, then he shoots at Giuseppe. The bullet misses, but Giuseppe fires back and hits Dr. Hodge in the leg.
The shooting only serves to heighten the racial and ethnic discord in the town. A band of angry white people sets out for the slaughterhouse, where they plan to murder Calo's uncles and his young cousin Cirone. Though Calo wants to save his family, he recognizes that he is helpless as an immigrant boy in a volatile Southern town. Therefore, he decides to save the only person he has any chance of saving: himself. He flees into the bayou, but several men from the town—and their ravenous dogs—are right behind him. With the irate men and dogs only steps away, Calo takes the most logical way out by jumping into the swamp.
After the group gives up on Calo, Joseph, an acquaintance of Calo's, finds him in the bayou. Calo learns that the angry mob succeeded in killing his family. Distraught, he spends the day with Joseph, who comforts and feeds him. Joseph knows that Calo needs to leave Tallulah if he is to survive. He helps Calo plan an escape, which involves paddling down the river in a canoe stocked with food and supplies. When Calo expresses doubt about being able to make it all the way to Baton Rouge and Tangipahoa Parish, Joseph reminds him of something important. "You are free," Joseph tells Calo. "You can choose. You can become what you choose."
Emboldened by this information, Calo says goodbye to Joseph and starts down the river in the canoe. He thinks about Rocco and how much he wants to see him again. He also vows that one day he will return to this small bayou town that wounded him so profoundly.
In an afterword to the story, Napoli discusses the true story of the Tallulah lynching. In 1899, five Sicilian grocers were lynched because they served a black customer who had entered the store first before they served a white customer who had entered the store later. Napoli created the story based on the firsthand testimony of people who witnessed or took part in the lynching.