Young Heroes of the Caribbean
Monday, 19 October 2020
Thursday, 20 August 2020
The themes of my four novels of Summer 2020 were again YA and adult novels by Caribbean authors that are set in the Caribbean. The selections were through the Jamaica Library Service and I enjoyed them all in different ways. My secret to enjoying a book is to read with perception so that you can be more aware of the writer's style of storytelling, and the core reason for telling the story at all.
If I were to recommend any or all of these books, it is that they tell stories of good over evil, self forgiveness and the huge potential of the human spirit to guide lives in big and small ways.
This cluster were all authored by women: three Jamaicans and one writer from Antigua and Barbuda. All settings are, I believe, between the 1990s to the present and the books were published between 2013 and 2019, making them very recent publications. All four books are set in the major urban centres: Jamaica's capital Kingston, Jamaica's major tourism city Montego Bay and the capital of Antigua and Barbuda, St John.
These are the books:
Musical Youth (2013) by Joanne Hillhouse
A shy, insecure, young teen develops her confidence and builds true friendships through a youth musical programme with youngsters her age. Through preparations for the final production, she unearths her own family story and has to confront all that it presents. The story integrates the music of the islands and also global pop music in the world of the young people.
Lest We Find Gold (2019) by Melanie Schwapp
A woman suffers disappointment in her
marriage, but this is directly related to what she learned about man and
woman affairs as a child.
Inner City Girl: Other Rivers To Cross (2018) by Colleen Smith Dennis
is the ongoing story of a young woman who has now completed secondary school
and has ambitions to start university. Despite having overcome disadvantages of
being born and raised in a deep urban area to a struggling single mother. Through fickle fate, she has tumbled back down the social ladder from where she escaped.
The author plunges the story back in a rough environment of poverty and shows us the pitfalls and the meagre opportunities that must be seized upon as any hope to advance in life.\
The bonds of fast friends, both old and new, and flimsy family more interested in maintaining social standing than family love and care.
The role of the older woman and the reformed man are carefully explored and Kingston city from the waterfront to the hills is the stage.
Tangled Chords (2014) by Brenda Barrett
energetic episode in the lives of two young people from Montego Bay whose lives
have been intertwined since childhood friendship and now, they realise that it
has matured to adult love.
The complex nature of power dynamics within families, which extends to domestic employees and also wealthy cliques are explored.
Barrett pays homage to the music of Bob Marley in the hero's band and his mental resilience.
Over time, I have found themes that are very popular to Jamaican, and perhaps Caribbean writers, and these books fit into what I have come to expect and easily find in the set-up of the novel.
The primary theme, by my reading, is the role of the mother. In three of these books, the books start with the mothers having already died, and we are told their flaws as humans and in the role of mother, especially in the area of setting a good example for their daughters. Yes, the protagonists are all young women.
The books use the independent sexual choices of the mothers - not as victims of sexual crimes - as a launch to demonstrate the negative impact of these decisions on the women and their families. So who picks up the slack left by these mothers? Of those three books, it is rural family members or the family domestic staff.
In the one book where there is a good mother, she is hands-off in child rearing, being more excited and focused on her professional achievements and ensuring that she has a good relationship with her husband and a marriage based on mutual respect and love.
Turning to the father figures: in three of these books, the fathers were prevented by the mothers from being a part of their children's early lives, which definitely had a negative effect on the entire home.
The Bad Mother is now a common trope for Jamaican literature, which makes me wonder what it says about the society talking to itself through writers. I do wonder how the subject matter in novels is very different from the popular music that we hear, but I have rationalised this down to the gatekeeping. Many of these novelists are self published and self promoted, while the music is produced through a commercial process which is predefined by attributes, the popular ones being: Songs to the long suffering mother, songs for sexy women, songs for gyallis, songs for gangsters, love songs for Jamaica, and songs of divine adoration. The stories being told by our writers are somewhat different.
Friday, 31 July 2020
Monday, 12 June 2017
The Jamaica Library service reading challenge is on, and here are the YA selections! Five authors from Jamaica and one from Barbados. Five novels and a memoir.
The Star Side Of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson
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.
Naomi 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.
Escape to Falmouth by Lena Joy Rose
When a feisty, Cherokee beauty and a strong-willed, male, runaway slave lock their destinies together in a headlong pursuit of freedom, they unleash forces that deny their liberty, threaten to destroy their love and propel them into dangerous exploits.
Garvey's Ghost by Geoffrey Philp
When Kathryn Bailey's teenaged daughter disappears from their home in Miami, the single Jamaican woman pursues every possible angle to find her. Kathryn's search leads her to a meeting with Jasmine's college professor, Jacob Virgo, a devout Garveyite and Rastafarian. Although their initial encounter is unpleasant, they must join forces to find Jasmine before it is too late. Through the teachings of Marcus Garvey, they learn to break down subtle barriers and find an unexpected bridge to new understandings and love.
A Way to Escape by Michelle Thompson
This is the story of the Tomlinson family's journey in Kingston, Jamaica, between the 1950s and 1970s. The Tomlinson family's dream becomes reality when they move from the inner city to a middle class neighbourhood in East Kingston. But their dream is short-lived. Arthur, the patriach and an alcoholic, in a drunken fury one night, orders his wife Rose to leave the house. Rose, a work-from-home dressmaker, leaves everything behind, and with her four children. the youngest still a toddler, flee to her mother, Mari, 'Granny'. The six of them share Granny's one-room quarters for months.
Will and Sara traversed the obstacles of young love, further complicated by distance, parenthood and infidelity. They set aside the immature ideals and attitudes that led to strife and heartache throughout their teenage romance and have grown to learn that love takes conscious effort to endure. Now settled into a life together, old and new acquaintances threaten to wreck the happy home they have built. Misunderstandings construed as betrayals, mistakes with life-changing consequences and a tragedy that threatens to bring 'till death do us part' closer to home than ever imagined will either strengthen or shatter the bound Will and Sara have shared since they were children in Jamaica. Will and Sara must decide: when love starts to hurt, should it still be clung to, should it still hold two people together? Breaking The Cycle follows the couple's path to overcome the lingering effects of being barrel children as issues of abandonment and commitment continue to test their relationship. As they come to terms with their issues, can they still find happiness in each other's arms or will they find it best to part ways and let another mend their hearts?
Generation Curse? by Colleen Smith-Dennis
As the saying goes,'truth is sometimes stranger than fiction', but for the stoic matriarch, Mrs. Harmond,and her family, the events which characterize their lives do not come from a horror movie, but are a part of their daily reality. In the community they are seen as pariahs, as Mrs. Harmond's father had been accused of committing sacrilege by stealing the parson's bull and burning the manse. Everybody said they were cursed, from the grandparents to the youngest in the last generation, as the strange disappearances, uncontrollable juvenile behaviour and horrifying deaths rock the family like an earthquake of great magnitude and leave them cowering beneath a rubble of pain, disbelief and near hopelessness.