Perfect Peace by Daniel Black | Book Review

 

perfect peaceBook: Perfect Peace by Daniel Black
Genre: Fiction
Published: March 2010
Pages: 352

The Rundown:
Emma Jean Peace is a mother and wife living in the south during the 1940s. She desperately wants a daughter, but all of her pregnancies far have resulted in boys, six of them. During her seventh pregnancy she is disappointed to discover that it is another boy. Pissed off and full of anguish, she decides to raise her seventh son as a girl. Everything goes as planned until her daughter’s eighth birthday, when she questions Emma Jean about womanhood. Realizing that she can’t hide the truth forever, Emma Jean decides to tell her family and community that her little girl was actually born a boy. This revelation threatens to tear a hole  in the Peace family as they cope with teaching the baby girl of the family how to be a man and navigating the judgement from the community. On top of that, each member of the family is dealing with their on hang-up of self-discovery.

I read this book last month during #ReadSoulLit. Since it was published quite a few years ago, I had no intentions of doing a review on it (because I felt like everyone has read/head about it and I’m just late…as usual). But let me tell you that I have not been able to get this book off my mind!

Daniel Black does a damn good job of using the children in this novel to show how we are conditioned at an early age to view gender-roles, sexuality, and religion. He also shows how the things our parents do to us as children-even when they think they’re doing what’s best for us-follows us into adulthood.

My favorite themes:

  • The consequences of not letting go of old pain. Emma Jean’s decisions are selfish attempts at hiding from the pain she refuses to acknowledge. Gus, Emma Jean’s husband and the father of her seven children, also struggles with childhood pain. This shows in their parenting skills and they end up being not much different than their own parents.
  • The consequences of not allowing yourself to forgive. Emma Jean won’t forgive her mother; she down right refuses to talk about the things she went through as a child and pretends that it doesn’t bother her. This refusal to forgive it what causes her to raise her son as a daughter and damn near destroying her family.
  • The struggle of accepting yourself. Several characters struggle to accept themselves: Perfect (the son raised as a daughter), Gus, and some of the people within the town they live. Trying to be who the family and community expected them to be while hiding who they really were caused them to be full of shame and self-hatred.

Holding onto old pain and not living in your truth can cloud your judgement, causing you to make selfish choices and do more harm than good. It’s hard to let go, to forgive, and to accept your authentic self, but the flawed characters in Perfect Peace reveal why it’s a necessary and important step in the growth process.

Oh! How can I forget about the names! There is tons of symbolism in this book-from the Jordan river that flows through the town, Emma Jean’s obsession with the color yellow, and the name Perfect decides to give her doll-but the names stood out the most to me. It required me to do a little research on the meaning/origin of the names, but it was worth it. The names of everyone in the Peace family and the townfolks all reveal something about the individual. I loved it.

I enjoyed this book. The characters are all damaged and full of drama (exactly how I like my books). I would have liked to see more of Perfect’s journey, though. Let me know if you’ve read Perfect Peace or if it’s on your TBR. I’ll leave you with two of my favorite quotes from this novel:

“You can’t lie a lifetime. Either you gon’ tell the truth, or the truth’s gon’ tell on you”

“But remember this: You’re strong because of your people–not in spite of them.”

 

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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Review: Here Comes the Sun


Title: Here Comes the Sun
Author: Nicole Dennis-Benn
Pages: 352
Published Date: July 5, 2016

My copy of Here Comes the Sun is an advance reader copy I grabbed at work (I work at a bookstore). The cover caught my eye first, then I flipped it over on the back and saw it was written by a black author and called dibs on it. I read the first chapter while on my lunch break and I decided to bring it home with me.

Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn is set in Jamaica during the early(?)’90s.  We are introduced to Margot who works in Montego Bay at a resort hotel. By day she checks in guest and supervises the hotel staff. At night she sneaks into the rooms of the male guests and provide “turndown” service to make extra money. She also maintains a sexual relationship with the hotel’s heir, a white Jamaican, in hopes that he will make her the manager of a new resort he’s building on the island. Margot’s main goal is to make enough money so  her teen sister, Thandi, can continue to attend private school and go to college. Trading sex for money is not the only secret she hides; she and her childhood friend, Verdene, are secret lovers.

 Margot and her sister live with their mother Delores, a stone-cold bitch. Delores has her own secrets and demons she’s battling, but in her eyes, Margot is the cause of all the problems the family faces and Thandi will be the one who pulls them out of poverty. As Thandi carries the weight of being the family’s ticket out of the slums, she hides secrets of her own. She doesn’t fit in with her peers and is overlooked at school; she blames her dark complexion for making her an outcast. She feels that if she had lighter skin she would be able to accomplish more and live a happier life.

This is a tragedy full of  suffering, sorrow, and betrayal. There is no happy ending, so brace yourself. Majority of the story is narrated by Margot, but you also get Thandi’s perspective of things. It was a roller coaster ride watching Margot and Thandi make one bad decision after another. Margot is determined and fierce; she doesn’t let anyone stand in the way of her pursuing what she wants. However, her determination turns into greed and she ultimately becomes just as callous as her mother–destroying her relationship with Verdene and exposing her sister to the life she worked so hard to protect her from.
Thandi is intelligent and uninterested in being the person her mom and sister are planning for her to be;  she’s also discovering what’s it like to be wanted as a local boy shows interest in her. She allows her need for independence and her longing for acceptance (and love) take her down an ugly path.

All characters were well developed; anytime they were being described or had any dialogue, especially when they spoke in Jamaican Patois, I could picture them clearly. Nicole Dennis-Benn does a great job of showing how racism, colorism, homophobia, and tourism affect Jamaica.  This is a great read that I gave 4 stars on Goodreads. Here Comes the Sun is scheduled to be released on July 5th, so make sure you add it to your summer reading list. However, if you’re planning a trip to Jamaica don’t pack this book!

 

 

book review: Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self

suffocateyourownself

Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evans is a collection of short stories whose characters are all lonely (but not alone), confused, and misunderstood. Here is a portion of the synopsis from Goodreads:

Striking in their emotional immediacy, the stories in Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self are based in a world where inequality is reality but where the insecurities of adolescence and young adulthood, and the tensions within family and the community, are sometimes the biggest complicating forces in one’s sense of identity and the choices one makes.

I gave it 3/5 stars. What I didn’t like was I wanted the stories to go on!! All of the stories ended with a dramatic cliffhanger. It kind of pissed me off in the way that you get pissed when your favorite TV show shows ends with a ‘to be continued’ and you have to wait an entire week to find out what happen; except with these stories I’ll never know what happened.

Each story does a great job in covering family relationships, friendships, love life, and sexuality from the prospective of Black Americans. There’s not much else I can say, because the Goodreads synopsis above says what I want to say.  The first story, “Virgins” is great; it follows two teenage girls who are best friends–one boy crazy and the other attempting (and failing) to be the voice of reason,–as they tackle boys, sex, and the emotions that follow.. The next few stories are pretty good, but after “Someone Ought to Tell Her There’s Nowhere to Go,” the stories become ‘eh.’ They were good stories, but I wasn’t as sucked in and intrigued as I was with the others. Danielle ends the book with a bang in the story “Robert E. Lee is Dead.” I have to say this story was my favorite.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and it pulled me out of a reading slump. I like Danielle Evan’s writing style, I can’t wait to read an actually novel by her. If she wanted to turn each of these eight stories into a book she could, and I would read each of them.