One Mississippi fuses social history with the other momentous events in the life of a displaced teenager, Daniel Musgrove, who is uprooted from Indiana and set down in Minor, Mississippi—although he might as well be on the moon. The other kids in his class laugh at him, his mother—who grew up in Alabama—goes native, his father is as surly as ever, and neither of his siblings offers much help. He’s doubly an outsider, not only a teenager but a Yankee in a new world he doesn’t particularly see a reason to adapt to. Integration and race relations are big issues, but he can’t see them the way the black and white Mississippians he meets do.
With his one friend Tim, Daniel muddles through what might seem like normal high school milestones—the prom, meeting girls, playing in the band for a high school musical—but Childress shows us the shadowy underside of these superficially cheery events. In addition to the satisfaction of a well-told tale, he allows the reader to come along with Daniel as he discovers the unpredictability of love—as well as just about everything else in his life.
Childress doesn’t pull any punches from the beginning of the novel. He has a serious story to tell—there are some shocking and sad scenes in here—but he does it with humor and affection and a blessed lack of sentimentality.