By: Drew Hill
Publisher: Evolved Publishing
Publication Date: July 17, 2023
Reviewed by: Rebecca Jane Johnson
Review Date: September 3, 2023
Crossing the Tracks is a socially conscious family saga that spans generations. Men in the Hill family lived and died by hard work on the railroad. These workers were honest folk who loved their spouses and children, struggled to earn honest wages, and remained steadfast and hopeful to put food on the table, keep a loving home, and be good neighbors. What excited the Hill men included affording a home where they could grow a garden. In this novel, author Drew Hill has given readers a story that captures an accurate and realistic portrayal of the history of labor unions, civil rights, and neighborhood racial integration. His novel reads like sifting through a shoebox full of black and white photos, like an old family collection that spans the late 1800s to post war America and through the civil rights era.
The narrative perspective is that of a first-born son, Melvin, growing up in the working class, watching his father provide for his family with hard jobs and then eventually as a skilled pipe fitter. Oscar Hill is the main character father who struggles through the Great Depression to eventually become the president of a labor union. The central drama revolves around how this ordinary family man advocates for equality and justice in the work place. The drama heats up when Oscar takes Darrell, a young Black man, to be his apprentice at a time when such a thing was unheard of. The strength and dignity they uphold in the face of scorn inspires a reader to love these characters.
When Melvin is old enough, his father Oscar gets him a job on the railroad. But after working there for some time, Melvin realizes his life’s calling is to become a Baptist preacher. This novel contains plenty of references to faith-based living, and it quotes scripture; but these details feel natural and inspiring, revealing Drew Hill as a gifted author with an ability to weave illuminating, faith-based values as part of the compelling, forward-moving narrative.
The author is sensitive to doling out a balance of disturbing scenes and touching scenes. There are portrayals of lynchings that are handled in ways that are neither sensationalized, fetishized, nor gratuitous; instead, these scenes are meant to reveal how and why Oscar stands for social justice. The Hill family extends kindness to neighbors and to each other. For instance, Melvin’s Uncle Harley builds the boy a violin. Oscar brings home-baked cookies to his Black neighbors, and they talk sports. These moments bring refuge and comfort when the wider world glorifies lynchings and hatred.
The book’s clear and powerful prose favors portrayals of kindness, generosity, and courage. Oscar Hill’s rise to courage is never overly complicated, nor ostentatious, nor glorified by lyricism or symbolism. Instead, real struggles highlight strong characters who inspire tireless work for social justice. Oscar is a real hero readers can root for and aspire to emulate. Each chapter opens with meaningful quotes from thinkers such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Cynthia Ozick, G.K. Chesterton, and others, making this book pleasantly thought-provoking. As Hill quotes Kant, “We are not rich by what we possess, but by what we can do without.” True as that may be, readers cannot do without reading Crossing the Tracks.
Quill says: Crossing the Tracks is a true American novel, a work of art that values equality, dignity, and justice for all, arrived at by honest living and hard work to make ends meet.
For more information on Crossing the Tracks, please visit the website: coffeewithdrew.blogspot.com/