While psychic powers dominate the plot and events of Justice and Her Brothers, the novel is also about family relationships, identity, and growing up. Justice’s entrance into adulthood begins with the acquisition of psychic powers rather than the more usual responsibilities teenagers must accept, but Hamilton is also clearly interested in depicting the emotional life of children and the effects of adolescence on the family structure as a whole.
Justice is lonely, deprived of her mother’s presence for the first time and without any real friends; she is tolerated by the neighborhood boys only because Levi feels obligated to include her. Her desire to impress the boys by performing a dangerous bicycle trick and to win the Great Snake Race comes out of her need for companionship. Both of her parents see the loneliness in Justice, and her mother wonders whether she is doing the right thing by going to college now instead of waiting until Justice is older. Hamilton uses Mrs. Douglass’ perspective to contrast the difficult choices of adulthood with the relative freedom that Justice still enjoys; while childhood is not represented as entirely idyllic, adulthood is complex and full of responsibility. When Justice becomes part of the unit and is no longer lonely, she also gives up much of her childhood. Although the novel ends with the four children riding bicycles as children do, there is a sense that such freedom and play will not last much longer.
The other key character...
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Virginia Hamilton’s career began in 1967, and since then she has written numerous books and won the Newbery Medal for M. C. Higgins, the Great (1974). Her work draws on a variety of African American experiences and spans a range of genres; in addition to novels and fiction for children, she has written biographies of W. E. B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, and the fugitive slave Anthony Burns, and she has also published several volumes retelling folktales and myths. Justice and Her Brothers has two sequels, Dustland (1980) and The Gathering (1981), both of which have a more extensive future setting, a world of dust caused by the depletion of rain forests and nuclear catastrophe. The Gathering concludes with the children’s power gone for the moment but all of them more mature and Thomas free of both his aggression and his stutter. The three novels together (known as the Justice Cycle) belong both to the tradition of children’s literature in which supernatural powers lead to maturity and responsibility and to the science-fiction literature of dystopia (oppressive future societies). The Justice Cycle has significance outside the genre of children’s literature because Hamilton is one of the few African Americans writing science fiction.