1959, the compassionate first novel by journalist, poet, and librettist Thulani Davis (X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X) describes a Virginia town lurching toward a race riot in 1959. Narrated by Katherine ”Willie” Tarrant, one of six black children chosen to integrate the local white school, 1959 dramatizes the 12-year-old’s coming-of-age in a community steeling itself for insurrection. Davis spends too many pages ruminating on black culture and Tarrant family history before the story gets rolling, and after a suspenseful buildup to Willie’s dreaded transfer, the focus inexplicably shifts to college students staging a sit-in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter. But despite its herky-jerky plot, 1959 is a moving portrait of a town inspired to activism on the eve of the civil rights era. B