44 pages 1 hour read

T.R. Simon, Victoria Bond

Zora and Me

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2010

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Summary and Study Guide


Zora and Me (2010) is a middle grade novel by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon. Both authors held a strong interest in 20th-century Black American writer Zora Neale Hurston, and they wanted to introduce her to younger readers. Bond has an MFA in poetry, while Simon has an MA in anthropology; Hurston was both a writer and an anthropologist. Inspired by real details from Hurston’s childhood as illustrated in her short stories, Bond and Simon constructed a fictional narrative set in Hurston’s childhood home of Eatonville, Florida. The novel is the first in a trilogy. It examines the harsh realities of life for Black people under America’s racist Jim Crow laws while also exploring Hurston’s life before she became a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Zora and Me won the John Steptoe/Coretta Scott King Award for New Talent in 2011 and the SIBA Okra Award in 2010.

This guide uses the 2010 e-book edition of the text from Candlewick Press.

Content Warning: The source text discusses enslavement and anti-Black racism, including lynching, in the Jim Crow South. The text includes racist slurs, which are obscured in this guide.

Plot Summary

Zora and Me opens just before best friends Zora Neale Hurston and Carrie Brown start the 4th grade. The girls live in Eatonville, an all-Black town in Florida, around the turn of the 20th century. A boastful young man, Sonny, gets attacked and killed by a fearsome alligator. At school, Zora tells her classmates an elaborate story: She claims the alligator is actually Mr. Pendir, an old man in town. She says she saw Mr. Pendir on his porch with an alligator snout instead of a nose and mouth. The other kids accuse Zora of lying. After school, Carrie and Zora try to go swimming in the Blue Sink, a local pond, but Old Lady Bronson is fishing there. Zora tries to warn her about the gator, but she tells the girls to leave.

Carrie, Zora, and their friend Teddy race each other to a favorite tree they call the Loving Pine. There is a man sitting under the tree playing a guitar. He bears a passing resemblance to Carrie’s father, who disappeared a few months ago. The man introduces himself as Ivory. He is an itinerant turpentine worker who has traveled extensively around the United States. Zora is captivated by Ivory; she also wants to travel. Ivory mentions his plans to swim in the Blue Sink, and again, Zora warns him about alligators.

Zora and Carrie talk to Billie, Old Lady Bronson’s granddaughter, who is worried because she has not seen her grandmother in some hours. The girls bring her to the Blue Sink to look for her. It is now dark outside, but they find Old Lady Bronson, who has fallen from the ledge she was sitting on. She is bruised but alive. The girls see Mr. Pendir standing in the doorway to his house across the pond, which bolsters their suspicions: Perhaps he turned into an alligator and pushed Old Lady Bronson.

The next day, Zora and Carrie visit the general store and tell owner and town marshal Joe Clarke about their concerns that Mr. Pendir turned into an alligator and pushed Bronson at the Blue Sink. A man bursts into the store to say that something terrible has happened. The decapitated body of a man has been found near the train tracks. The body was near a broken guitar: It is Ivory. Carrie is distraught. Zora immediately suspects that Mr. Pendir, in gator form, killed Ivory. The girls go to the Hurston house for dinner, where Mr. Hurston is home. This is rare, as he is a traveling preacher. Zora’s older sister is his favorite of his children, and he loves his sons; he resents Zora and lashes out at her when she mentions Ivory’s death. 

The following day, Zora and Carrie accompany Zora’s mother on a shopping trip to the nearby town of Lake Maitland. Unlike Eatonville, Lake Maitland has a large white population. There, the girls meet a captivating, blonde-haired woman named Gold walking down the street arm-in-arm with her fiancé, a white man. Mrs. Hurston and her friend, Mrs. Jefferson, both think that Gold is doing something scandalous, but the girls have trouble understanding what. In the window of a bookstore, Zora sees a book called The Myth and Lore of Gator Country that she thinks might help her understand Mr. Pendir, but her mother cannot afford it. Back in Eatonville, Zora and Carrie run into Mr. Ambrose, a white man who helped deliver Zora when she was born. Zora tells him about her alligator theory and about the book. Mr. Ambrose buys Zora the book and has it sent to her house.

Zora meets up with Carrie and Teddy with a plan. She has read a story in the book about a pure white alligator that killed humans by cutting off their heads, searching for the one with the loveliest voice. Zora thinks Mr. Pendir is this alligator, since Ivory was a good singer. The only way to defeat such a creature is to sing it a lullaby at night, so the three children all sneak out of their houses after their parents are asleep and meet by the Blue Sink. Carrie sings a lullaby, but when a noise startles her, she runs and falls in the darkness, breaking her shoulder. Mr. Pendir, having heard the children, carries her to the Hurston house and helps bandage her shoulder. He is so kind that the children realize that he cannot be a murderer. As Carrie slowly heals, she and her friends discuss what killed Ivory if there is no magical alligator man.

Carrie sits on her porch, and Zora arrives with big news. She was at the Loving Pine, and she overheard Joe Clarke talking to Gold. It turns out that Gold is Ivory’s sister; she has been passing for white, but she is actually Black. She suspects that her fiancé killed Ivory. Carrie instinctively realizes that her father was most likely murdered by white people, just like Ivory. The girls return to the Loving Pine and find Gold. They ask her why she passes for white instead of remaining with her people, but find her answers about accessing white-only spaces lacking.

The next day, Mr. Pendir dies. In his bedroom, Billie finds many masks of different animals, including an alligator mask. Joe Clarke explains to the girls that Mr. Pendir made masks to cope with trauma. Zora and Carrie tell Mr. Ambrose everything that has happened, and he says he will deal with it. Joe Clarke convinces Gold to separate from her fiancé and move to Orlando, and Mr. Ambrose ensures that her fiancé’s business fails. Carrie knows that one day, Zora will leave Eatonville to travel the world, while she will stay there forever and likely marry Teddy.