Book Babble || White Lines by Tracy Brown

White Lines by Tracy Brown
Published 2007 by St. Martin’s Press
497 pages
ISBN: 978-0-312-33648-6

One of my reading goals for 2019 is to read and review at least one Urban Fiction book a month. Obviously, this is January’s Urban Fiction pick.

Synopsis

via back cover of novel:
Jada left home at the age of sixteen, running from her own demons and the horrors of physical abuse inflicted by her mother’s boyfriend. She parties hard, and life seems good when she is with Born, the neighborhood kingpin whose name is synonymous with money, power, and respect. But all his love couldn’t save her from a crack addiction. Jada goes from crack addict and prostitute to survivor and back again before she finds the strength to live for herself and come out on top. And her stormy romance with one of the fiercest hustlers on the streets makes White Lines one of the most unforgettable urban loves stories of the year.

Rating
★★★★★

Thoughts:

This was actually a reread for me. I read this book back in 2007 when I was 16 and when it was first published. Whenever someone mentions that they want to read Urban Fiction I always recommend this book because of how much I loved it when I was a teenager. I figured that since I’m an ‘adult’ now I should give it a reread and make sure that its withstood the test of time. Thankfully it has.

Brown is one hell of a writer and it shows in how much time and thought she puts into the creation of her characters. I admire authors who take the time to explain the backstory of supporting characters and Brown does that excellently. Every one of her characters exists in the story for a reason, which (on my hippie chick vibe) mirrors my attitude toward the people who I encounter in my life so perfectly so it’s a bonus to me when I see that reflected in a story.

“White Lines” is a story about drugs (both from the addict and the pushers perspective), redemption, self-love, and perseverance. The majority of the story takes place in the ’90s, the emergence of the crack era, and goes through several New York boroughs primarily following the lives of Jada (addict) and Born (pusher). One of my favorite things about this story is how deeply it examines the causes behind why Jada and Born move through life the way they do. The situations that they both go through and the way how they handle those things was so realistic that occasionally I felt like I was reading someone’s reflection of their life. I also appreciated that Brown focused on the importance of change being effective and positive when one truly wants to change for themselves and how important self-love is in that process.

I Would Recommend This To…

  • People who want to start reading urban fiction but have their reservationsPeople who want to transition from urban fiction to mainstream but, also, have their reservations
  • Fans of urban fiction
  • People who want to read a book featuring strong female characters
  • People who have an interest in fiction that covers topics such as drug use and ‘hood’ life

Do you have a favorite Urban Fiction book or author, let me know who! Also, if you’ve read this before let me know what you thought about it!

___

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Book Babble || She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore

She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore
Published 2018, Greywolf Press
294 pages
ISBN: 978-1-55597-817-4

Synopsis:

In the West African village of Lai, red-haired Gbessa is cursed at birth and exiled on suspicion of being a witch. Bitten by a viper and left for dead, she nevertheless survives. On a plantation in Virginia, June Dey hides his unusual strength until a confrontation with the overseer forces him to flee. And in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, Norman Aragon, the child of white British colonizer and a Maroon slave, can fade from sight at will, just as his mother could.
Gbessa, misunderstood by her own people, finds a new life with a group of African American settlers in the colony of Monrovia. When she meets June Dey and Norman Aragon, it isn’t long before they realize that they are all cursed – or perhaps, uniquely gifted, but only Gbessa can salvage the tense relationship between the settlers and the indigenous tribes. The all-seeing spirit of the wind weaves together their extraordinary stories. “If she was not a woman,” the wind says of Gbessa, “she would be king.”
In her transcendent debt, Wayetu Moore illuminates the tumultuous roots of Liberia, a country whose history is inextricably bound to the United States. A spectacular blend of history and magical realism, She Would Be King is a novel of profound depts from a major new author.

Rating:
★★★★☆

Thoughts:

One of my favorite things about this book was that it reminded me of a spiritual mixed with “survival music” (essentially songs that helped those enslaved and those living through Jim Crow survive and continue to move forward). Moore’s writing style was so smooth and flowy that she makes magical realism feel as if it’s a part of everyday life and history seem as if it’s the fairytale.

The layers to this story were absolutely mesmerizing as it was told from the perspective of a wind spirit watching over the three main characters who each have different, yet similar, experiences with colonization and slavery. I thought it was a fantastic way to grapple with how widespread and connected the ideas of colonization and slavery are/were. The story travels from Africa, to America, to Jamaica and back to Africa showcasing each character’s experience and journey.

I was fascinated with the portion that covered Liberia since I hardly know anything about Liberia outside of it being set up by the American Colonization Society so that free blacks could have a better chance at life. It was fascinating reading about the ‘society women’ in Monrovia and how much of their livestyle and the way in which they carried themselves were similar to how Southern woman carried themselves. It was also interesting realizing that the free blacks who helped the ACS colonize Liberia were also colonizers by extension; that the land had one belonged to other tribes/people and was being taken from them by people who both looked like them and didn’t look like them. It was just an emotional trip.

Who Should Read This?

  • fans of magical realism
  • people looking to read historical fiction about Liberia
  • people who want to read magical realism but are unsure if they’d like it or not

What do you think of magical realism and what’s your favorite book from the genre? Also, if you’ve read this before let me know what you thought!

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Book Babble || Passing by Nella Larsen

Passing by Nella Larsen
Originally published 1929 by Alfred A. Knopf
Edition read published 2004 by Dover Publications
94 pages
ISBN: 978-0-486-43713-2

Synopsis:

(from back cover)
Married to a successful physician and prominently ensconced in Harlem’s vibrant society of the 1920s, Irene Redfield leads a charmed existence – until she is shaken out of it by a chance encounter with a childhood friend. Clare Kendry has been “passing for white,” hiding her true identity from everyone, including her racist husband. Clare and her dangerous secret pose an increasingly powerful threat to Irene’s security, forcing both women to confront the hazards of public and private deception.

Thoughts:

The concept of “passing” is one of those things that I’ve always been intrigued by and is honestly a concept that I could dedicate an entire blog post about concerning myself, my own biracialness, and what it’s like to “pass for respectable” in modern American society.

With all that being said…

I couldn’t find myself actively enjoying this novel (which sucks for a first read of 2019). There was something lacking in terms of the characters’ depth and reading about how Larsen had a half-sister who was white and who shunned Larsen when she tried to connect her made me look too deeply into (and expect too much from) the relationship between Irene and Clare.

The dynamic between Irene and Clare was intense. I loved how vividly Larsen wrote about Irene’s feelings toward Clare and I loved how deep into Irene’s mind she let the reader wander. The undertone of obsessiveness, insecurity, and jealousy that wove through Irene’s story made her actions seems plausible and to a certain extent, relatable. However, I felt as if Irene’s motives were only understandable through her reactions to Clare and I wonder as to what type of woman Irene was without those emotions driving her.

As for Clare, you never truly get to delve into her mind. You get to see her as Irene sees her and get her story as it’s given to Irene which drove me slightly mad. I would have loved to read a chapter or section that focused on Clare and examined what it felt like to constantly deny a part of yourself for the sake of external comfort.

There was a part of this short novel though that made me cock my head to the side as I read it and made me think about it for essentially the remainder of the novel. Irene is addressing a man named Hugh who’s been admiring Clare at a benefit that Irene organized.

“[…] It’s easy for a Negro to ‘pass’ for white. But I don’t think it would be so simple for a white person to ‘pass’ for coloured.”
“Never thought of that.”
“No, you wouldn’t. Why should you?”

Today, white people attempt to ‘pass’ as biracial, black, or ‘colored’ almost all the damn time and it was only a few months ago where us PoC actually were confronted with the evidence that average white women were pretending to be PoC. You should give this article a quick glance if you have not the slightest clue what I’m talking about.

I mean…how crazy is it that 90 years after this book was written that instead of black people trying to pass as white we got white people trying to pass for black but the actual relations between the two races is still insanely tumultuous?! It’s one of those things that constantly has me scratching my head.

Rating:
★★★☆☆

Who Might Enjoy This?

  • people interested in reading about racial identify
  • fans of literature written during the Harlem Renaissance
  • people who want to read “classical” literature that goes beyond “To Kill a Mockingbird” and other famous white authors.

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