Young-Adult, Mature-Adult, Adult, Coming-of-Age, Literary-Fiction
Digital ARC provided by Edelweiss
My Rating 4 Stars
Two sisters are suddenly sent from their home in Brooklyn to Barbados to live with their grandmother, in this stunning debut novel
This lyrical novel of community, betrayal, and love centers on an unforgettable matriarchal family in Barbados. Two sisters, ages ten and sixteen, are exiled from Brooklyn to Bird Hill in Barbados after their mother can no longer care for them. The young Phaedra and her older sister, Dionne, live for the summer of 1989 with their grandmother Hyacinth, a midwife and practitioner of the local spiritual practice of obeah.
Dionne spends the summer in search of love, testing her grandmother’s limits, and wanting to go home. Phaedra explores Bird Hill, where her family has lived for generations, accompanies her grandmother in her role as a midwife, and investigates their mother’s mysterious life.
This tautly paced coming-of-age story builds to a crisis when the father they barely know comes to Bird Hill to reclaim his daughters, and both Phaedra and Dionne must choose between the Brooklyn they once knew and loved or the Barbados of their family.
Jackson’s Barbados and her characters are singular, especially the wise Hyacinth and the heartbreaking young Phaedra, who is coming into her own as a young woman amid the tumult of her family.
REVIEW Narrated perfectly in third person, this is a story about the harsh realities and endless possibilities of life. This story is about family, mental health, sexuality, parenting, and death. It’s delves deep into the characters lives and brings out all of the complexities that make up that person. I could not put this book down to save my life.
Dionne and Phaedra are sent from Brooklyn, NY to the Caribbean Island of Barbados, to live with their grandmother, Hyacinth, after their mother could no longer care for them. They are immediately signed up for vacation bible school, and their summer in Barbados is filled with religion, love, family, death, friends, bullies, and all things growing up entails. With Dionne being the oldest, turning 16 during her stay, she is somewhat rebelling against some of the rules her grandmother sets forth. Phaedra is 10, and she is coming into her own, but like any child worried about their mother, she is a little lost. Hyacinth only wants one thing, and that’s for her daughter to come home from the States. Something that she’s wanted for twenty years. So, she cares for her granddaughters and keeps on with her life as a midwife and practicing obeah.
Without giving too much away, I will say that this is a story that will capture your attention immediately. I saw Dionne spiraling out of control from the very first page. The thoughts about how their mother completely shut down, hurt my heart. If only Hyacinth had visited her daughter in the States, she could have really helped her. Not saying that it’s her fault for the outcome, but with her spiritual practices, maybe she could have done something. Dionne is walking around seemingly mad with the world and getting more grown by the second, it seemed. She wasn’t a complete rebel, but she did disrespect her grandmother, and herself, in the process. Nothing screams promiscuous like a teen girl walking around with makeup piled on and dressed to distraction. Phaedra, bless her little heart. I really loved her character. I would have given this a 5, but there are things in this book that irked me to no end. If I list them all, that will ruin the surprise for other readers. Just….no, I can’t get down with one particular practice that Hyacinth does.
Overall, this is a worthy book. I don’t particularly read novels that are so expressively narrated, but this one makes me want to read more like it. Great characterization and the setting is well explained. I actually pictured everything that is described in this book because Barbados is one of my go-to-places before I die. I’d love to go and soak up some of it’s culture and history. The author did a great job of bringing these characters to life between the pages. Recommended!