Coretta Scott King Honor author Lesa Cline-Ransome has earned a reputation as an excellent chronicler of American history in more than 20 works of fiction and nonfiction. In For Lamb, she powerfully captures the events that lead to a fictitious lynching in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1940.
Cline-Ransome was inspired to write For Lamb after visiting the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, where she became interested in the untold stories of Black women who were victims of lynching. Within the novel, Cline-Ransome names a number of characters after these women, including the titular protagonist, whose namesake, Lamb Whittle, was lynched in Louisiana in 1907.
As the novel opens, 16-year-old Lamb Clark (who was “quiet as a lamb” when she was born) is a naive girl, sheltered by her protective mother, Marion, and older brother, Simeon, an enterprising student determined to attend college and leave the South behind. After an encounter between Simeon and a bigoted white optometrist, the doctor’s daughter decides to befriend Lamb. Their friendship sets off a series of developments and leads to a horrifying, expertly plotted climax with unimaginable consequences.
Cline-Ransome skillfully conveys Lamb’s transformation into a young woman determined to chart her own course in life despite the obstacles and horrors of the Jim Crow South, including a sexual assault and the lynching of a member of her family. Lamb comes to a new understanding of Marion’s romantic relationship with a woman and forms a new connection with her father, who has been largely absent for many years.
Cline-Ransome depicts injustice and violence with a perfect balance of brutality and sensitivity. She particularly excels at portraying the nuances of relationships and character motivations, which are often at odds among the members of Lamb’s family. Simeon, for instance, longs to be free from the need to act submissive around white people, while Marion believes this behavior can be key to survival, and readers gain deep understandings of both characters’ perspectives.
For Lamb is a heartbreaking novel that will leave readers with a visceral understanding of history.