I'm having a hard time writing this review because I love the book so much. I've read it a bunch of times (five? ten?) since I first encountered it as a child. It's about a 14-year-old African-American girl coming up in a poor neighborhood of an unnamed northern city. She wants to feel like part of something, and gets her chance when she wrangles a former storefront church with an old piano in it into a clubhouse for her and the kids who previously had to hang out on the street, dodging a vindictive cop named Lafferty.
The clubhouse soon becomes home also to an old blind musician, who mentors the kids, saying of Louretta, "Hey, that little girl has a great big voice! . . .And I didn't even know she was here." the first time he hears her sing with the boys. There's a lot more going on in this novel. Louretta discovers why her father left and grapples with perceived favoritism among her siblings; she loses faith in school and the white poets she'd formerly exalted; she experiments with a militant African separatist group, and gains a better understanding of the boy, Fess, who brought her there; she sees police violence and a little bit of the power of the people; she mourns the passing of a friend and later the passing of her own childhood. By the end she finally comprehends what Fess means when he pronounces that something does or does not have soul.
"Louretta, warmed by his highest word of praise, felt grateful tears rise in her eyes. Now she knew what this quality was that he prized so highly, and also knew that she possessed it. It came out in her singing and playing, but music was only one way of expressing it. Soul was in Ulysses' laughter, too, and in Momma's crying, and Reverend Mamie's preaching, as well as in Mrs. Jackson's dancing and Randolph's smiles. It was a way of putting your whole self, your deepest self, into everything you did." p.237
When it's over, you want more. Fortunately Hunter did write a sequel in 1981, thirteen years after Sister Lou was published. Lou in the Limelight is not as good; it couldn't possibly be, but it helps.