A Lesson Before Dying by Earnest J. Gaines
Grant Wiggins left his small Cajun community as a young man to attend university, though he returned to his hometown to teach the other children of the community. When Jefferson, a young black man, is convicted for killing a liquor store attendant when he really was only in the wrong place at the wrong time, Grant is asked to help. Jefferson's godmother and Grant's aunt persuade him to try to make Jefferson see that he is a man. Grant doesn't want to confront Jefferson because there are a lot of hidden feelings he has about having to return to his hometown rather than becoming a successful black man in the world.
There are a lot of characters in this novel that seem to have no relevance to its outcome. Many children that Grant teaches are frequent to the story, as well as his girlfriend. They don't add too much. The story really could take place with Jefferson, Grant, the two elderly ladies, the reverend, and a few of the folks at the jail.
I can understand why people really enjoy this novel but it didn't really resonate with me. The only part that I really enjoyed was one of the last conversations that Grant and Jefferson had together, where Grant realized that this was about more than just Jefferson but about himself and the rest of the community too. The rest of it I neither loved nor hated.
First Line: "I was not there, yet I was there."