Black History Month Reading

As some of you know, every February, in honor of Black History Month, I pick a special book to read. Usually it’s a classic like Souls of Black Folks or Up From Slavery.  Last year I chose Negro With a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey.  It is a very dense book and I wasn’t able to finish it last year, so I picked it up again and I’m still not done but I will continue to plug away at it until I finish it sometime in August, maybe.

But I did read some amazing books in February: 

 4.  Wench 
       by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
I made a decision awhile ago that I was done with books about slavery, but this one was so fresh, that I had to make an exception. This book takes places in the early 1860’s over the course of a couple summers as Southern slave owners take their vacations at a Ohio resort. They don’t bring their wives, they usually bring a female slave and set up house for the summer in one of the cabins on the resort. The relationships between the slaves is the main focus as the women form friendships over their similar circumstances.  Also interesting, as Ohio is a free state at the time, is the question of freedom – does being around free Blacks put ideas in their heads?  Does the bond that some of the women have with their owners/bed mates make the notion of running not an option?  Wonderful, thoughtful debut novel that lifted my moratorium on reading novels set during that time.  And it made it easy to segue-way into finally picking up:

5. A Mercy
    by Toni Morrison

It was a seamless transition.  Toni Morrison is a master at character development, and it is apparent here. This is not your standard rich, cruel plantation and slave owner story.  It is a human story about when circumstances arise and traditional roles get blurred and choices misconstrued. There’s Florens, a girl given up for sale to a new owner, at her mother’s request, creating a need for love and acceptance that grows with her into adulthood. Jacob, the man who buys her, but sees himself outside of this foreign world of slavery and wants to be more of a traveler and trader.  There’s Lina, a Native American woman who is now a servant to Jacob and his wife, Rebekka. Because of Jacob’s lengthy absences, after distrusting each other for a while, Rebekka & Lina form a bond as women left alone to watch over a farm.  The question of choices and mercy and tragedy runs through this book and is woven as only Morrison can do.  At work, I run across many people who are still intimidated by her work, I think that I will start to recommend this one to them.

6. The Girl Who Fell From The Sky
     by Heidi W. Durrow

Another debut novel that knocks it out of the park.  Eleven year old Rachel is the sole survivor of a family tragedy who now finds herself living with her father’s mother.  As a product of a Danish mother and an African-American father, Rachel has never much though of herself as Black or biracial before.  Now, living in a  predominately African American community she is faced with racial issues for the first time, while pushing her grief inside.  The story also unfolds through the voice of Brick, a boy who witnessed the tragedy and somehow gets drawn into Rachel’s tale, and through the diary of her deceased mother. This book had me in tears more than once. Powerful.

7. Uptown
by Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant

Sometimes when you’ve been reading an author for awhile, you start to know their formula, and although they don’t do anything groundbreaking, you stay with them just because.  This is not true for these two ladies. That isn’t true in this case.  DeBerry and Grant aren’t cookie cutter writers and their story telling gets better and better with each book (if that is even possible).  Uptown is a story of family, and power, and community.  Dwight Dixon, a well known politician and developer in Harlem wants to take advantage of the trend toward gentrification and plans a luxury complex to be marketed as Central Park North.  This will be the shining moment of his father’s dream and will rival anything that the Trump’s have done.  But he can’t move forward without the help of his estranged cousin, Avery Lyons, who has almost nothing to do with the family.  This is a perfectly crafted novel with twists and turns that had me staying up way too late reading!  And the scenes early in the book describing a painful situation (another family tragedy!) were so well written, that it reminded me of when I was in a similar position and I had to put it down to cry. Go get this book now!

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