WICHITA, Kan. — An enthusiastic crowd gathered at Watermark Books & Cafe to celebrate the release of author Grant Overstake’s highly anticipated new young adult novel, The Real Education of TJ Crowley. The book has received fine endorsements and reviews and is now on sale at booksellers nationwide and around the world.
Overstake, author of Maggie Vaults Over the Moon, expressed his gratitude for the support he received in writing his second book, which was released Nov. 5, 2018 by Grain Valley Publishing Co.
Maggie has become modern classic in the worldwide pole-vaulting community since it was published in 2012. Olympians endorsed the book and coaches have purchased copies to inspire their young vaulters. Maggie was named “National Book of the Week” by BookWorks; Audie Award-winning voice actress Tavia Gilbert earned top reviews for her audiobook performance of the story from AudioFile magazine; and the story was a “Too Cool for School” read by Publishers Weekly.
As a Teaching Artist for Arts Partners in Wichita, Overstake presents student assemblies to 3rd through 5th graders called “Don’t Quit, Use Grit!” using pole-vaulting and Maggie’s resilient character as a jumping off point to talk about other “famous failures” like Edison and Einstein and Oprah — to encourage youngsters to get back up and try, try again.
The Real Education of TJ Crowley addresses the explosive subjects of prejudice, school integration and racism and is written for more mature readers. The story is historical fiction, set in Wichita during the turbulent years of 1968 and 1969 and is told by a fiery tempered 13-year-old from a racist household, who is forced to choose sides after a black couple and their daughter cross the city’s hard-drawn color line and move into the house next door, unaware that the Crowleys are a bigoted brood with ties to evil men.
Like Maggie, the Overstake’s new story features a track and field event as a backdrop: Shot Putting.
“Track and field is fertile ground for my storytelling,” he said. “I’ve discovered that the events in track often reflect the people who do them, not unlike people who look like their dogs. For example, grief-stricken Maggie Steele is a gritty teen who discovers that the daring sport of pole-vaulting is her path to personal healing and a higher perspective on life. In the same way, the volatile TJ Crowley discovers shot putting is the perfect place for him to channel his fiery temper. My characters learn life lessons through the crucible of competitive sports.”
The author’s reading and book signing at Watermark began with a welcome by former KAKE-TV news reporter, Mark Chamberlin, who shared his appreciation for the story and its value to Wichitans. Next, Dr. Jay M. Price, Ph.D., Chairman of the History Department at Wichita State University, shared about the importance of Overstake’s novel from a local historical perspective.
Overstake thanked people from the black community for their input, without whom the story could not have been written. “The Real Education of TJ Crowley began with the real education of Grant Overstake,” he added.
EARLY REVIEWS FOR THE REAL EDUCATION OF TJ CROWLEY
“I am thoroughly impressed! Couldn’t put it down.” – Sarah Bagby, Fiction Judge 2015 National Book Awards
“Set in an explosive moment in America’s racial history, this coming-of-age history prompted me to consider my own moral courage. What choices would I have made if I were in TJ’s shoes? I was on the edge of my seat, turning the pages and rooting for TJ as he navigated his young life with increasing clarity.” – Debby Irving, author of Waking Up White
“Grant Overstake’s The Real Education of TJ Crowley is a remarkable book that takes on the choices faced by a young white teenager caught up in the racial maelstrom of desegregation in the American hinterland. Brought to life by a series of finely drawn characters, the book offers readers, particularly teens, a chance to think about some of the most important issues facing our society today. I heartily recommend it. – Mark Potok, former Senior Fellow, Southern Poverty Law Center
“The Real Education of TJ Crowley is a nostalgic and haunting work of fiction. Anyone who remembers the late 1960s will find the story warm and familiar and deeply unsettling. Even those who did not grow up in that time will connect with the struggles of having to reconcile the values of their home with the realities of the world around them. The story is a window into a time and place that seems so distant, and yet so familiar.” – Jay M. Price, Ph.D., Director of the Community History Program, Wichita State University
“This intense young adult novel presents numerous racial stereotypes and then shatters them. Psychologically-complex characters populate this coming-of-age story that is both thrilling and insightful. Highly recommended reading for enjoyment and tolerance education.” – Timothy M. Tays, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, author of Wannabe Distance God and The Chameleon Complex
“Too often, the conversation about race omits the role of whiteness in the equation. The Real Education of TJ Crowley is the perfect book to spur frank discussions about whiteness with teens and young adults, offering insights into the fear and hate of white supremacy and a model of how a white person can change and challenge what they think they know about race. This book will provoke meaningful discussions in the classroom.” – Jenna Chandler-Ward, Co-Founder of Teaching While White
“Raw, deliberate and honest, The Real Education of TJ Crowley is not a reassuring read. But the book is about potential, about what happens when people are seen as people, not as a “word.” This is a book that demands discussion. Read it in a group and talk genuinely about history and its important connection to current society.” – Marguerite Penick-Parks, Ph.D., co-editor of Everyday White People and A Guide for White Women Teaching Black Boys
FROM THE BLURB: What Lessons Did You Learn In the 7th Grade?
Home-schooled in his whiteness, thirteen-year-old TJ Crowley thinks he knows everything about black people. Not that he’s experienced anything about them firsthand. Everything he knows about them and the ugly names he flings, he learned from his half-crazed mom. She flips out whenever she sees a black person. And lately, she’s been flipping out all the time.
It’s the summer of 1968. The nation is divided and on edge over Civil Rights and the war in Vietnam. Even Walter Cronkite seems confused about what’s going on. The slaying of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sparked violent protests coast-to-coast, including Wichita, Kansas, a segregated city where, due to racial discrimination, blacks have been forced to live in one Zip Code until now….
In this landmark work of historical YA fiction, two American families with different pigmentation of skin land side-by-side after the new Fair Housing law makes it a crime to discriminate against people of color.
Nobody can prevent the Washingtons and their daughter from moving to the home of their dreams, even in an all-white neighborhood like the Crowley’s. Not legally. But the Crowleys are a vengeful brood with ties to very evil men….
For TJ Crowley, it’s been a bummer of a summer. With his father away from home and his brother gone off to fight in Vietnam, TJ and his mom are all alone in their house on the hill just one street away from the racial dividing line. When the nightly curfew kicks-in, their doors are locked tight. While his fearful mom drinks her worries away, TJ watches from the living room window as firebombs light the sky….
Despite everything, TJ is excited about going to Brooks Junior High where he plans to be a sports star. But he’s worried about the 7th Grade because, with forced integration, black students will be bused over the dividing line to join him. He’s also worried about his dorky best friend, Eric, who wears tie-dye and let his hair grow past his collar like a dang hippie.
At thirteen, TJ thinks he knows all there is to know, until the doorbell rings one day and The Real Education of TJ Crowley truly begins.