Book: Perfect Peace by Daniel Black
Published: March 2010
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.”