Showing posts with label YA novels. Show all posts
Showing posts with label YA novels. Show all posts

Thursday, 20 August 2020

Four Novels of Summer - Jamaica

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.

I have placed this on my domestic violence and Jamaican mothers shelves because of the ongoing themes that are presented in the books that I read.

This book is firmly set in Jacks Hill and Mona, St Andrew Jamaica, with nostalgic touches on deep rural Jamaica, it also has delicious episodes of food preparation with local ingredients.

Based on the forward and afterward notes, this book connected very closely to the personal life of the author.

Inner City Girl: Other Rivers To Cross (2018) by Colleen Smith Dennis

This 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

An 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.



Wednesday, 16 January 2019

The Value of Caribbean YA Books in Reducing Bias and Prejudice

Read Jamaican YA Novels) on Biteable.
To reduce destructive transgression in our societies, every individual needs to experience, from birth, the security of being valued the uplifting feeling of respect, and to be raised to consciously perform lifelong socially cohesive behaviours and self care.

Forgiving all the slights that we have received because of some kind of prejudice against or or bias is not easy, especially after a lifetime of being short changed by loss of opportunity or even the passing over of someone's eyes when you believe that you are worth more than a glance.

Self-affirmation is good within your close-knit group, and helps to make you resilient from a wider torrent of humiliation, but if you have to live in a society that continues to demean you, that is really passing a grudge down to another generation.

Each of us is probably guilty of some kind of bias, but when the society, as a whole, has ingrained prejudices against its own membership, that is cannibalism and will hurt the advancement of the society.

It can be possible if more of us, recognise the shortcoming in ourselves and commit to change. This is not going to happen spontaneously, and YA books of the culture that you associate with and have internalised can play a healing role.

A reading of passages from fiction or memoirs can help to open up thoughts of the effect of living as a person both giving and receiving bias. The value that I am pointing out here is more than documenting examples of bias and prejudice in society, but allowing it to liberate us from victimhood and also helping us not to perform as a bigot and a bully which most of us perform, to some degree, throughout our lives.

Our cricketing heroes, do have passages in their books that describe the insults and prejudice that they received while playing overseas. It would be useful to discover what they had in their personal resources to allow them to overcome this. Twinned with their experiences, would of course be, the real life sad decline of sportsmen who broke a society rule and played for money in South Africa during apartheid. Examples of books by these sportsmen are Whispering Death by Michael Holding and Six Machine by Christopher Gayle.

Another moment describing prejudice that converted to triumph is The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands where, at a moment when a racial slur was used in her presence, but at a time she had an upper hand, she performed with outrage to memorable effect.

In "A Way To Escape" by Michelle Thompson, it is the expectation that women will be the hard workers and accepting of the harmful behaviour of their spouses to themselves and their children can be explored and how she got out of it. Dew Angels by Melanie Schwapp also has a mother who does not do well by herself or her children because she is under the control of a domineering husband. In each case, both mothers found a way of redemption.

The favourite bias of authors in the Caribbean is how the skin colour bias expresses itself, and how it is closely linked to the social status bias. This is an important issue that needs to be told and retold with the aim of gradually dismantling it. Books that do not explicitly tell you the skin colour of the characters may also be helpful in this regard. My books Bad Girls In School, Young Heroes of the Caribbean do not describe skin colour of characters.  I have freed the reader to see the actions of the characters without explicitly describing their skins. It allows the reader to add that bit of imagination and it may be interesting to hear what different readers thought and whether that affected their view of the characters or not. I did describe skin colour of characters in my book Something Special.

By their scope, YA books aim to be helpful to the reader in some way. A story may not have a happy ending, but it provides another possibility.

The stories in YA books are a treasure trove of promoting greater justice and harmony in the society if leveraged where it can become available to young minds. Not just in the written form, but also as other media products such as stage plays, radio dramas and films and documentaries.

One can hope that with the foray of the streaming leader Netflix followed by other companies in the USA, Europe and China, that some Jamaican stories can get the financial backing that is needed to bring fresh storytelling to the screen.

Promoting them will hopefully spur even more creations that address the range of social challenges that can be imagined and that we live with.

The organisations in our society that support hegemony or that are the opposite, causing change, are naturally crucial to any influences on bias and prejudice.

Some of these influences will be to urge voluntary behaviour, such  as the Ministry of Health Jamaica Moves lifestyle programme, or non-voluntary such as the justice system.

The actors who will carry out these influences will be teachers, health workers, law enforcement officials, policy writers and persons who create and distribute content that is widely consumed by our societies.

In the UK today, arising out of comply or explain regulations related to reducing bias in companies that are related to race, sex and gender differences, publicly listed companies are expected to put policies in place to reduce behaviours that are unfair to certain segments of the population.

In the USA, it is the radical activists against policies of the government and longstanding abuses by celebrities and a range of powerful figures who have been pushing for social change that will reduce biases.

Moving adults humanely toward change is complex, and one of the outcomes is that persons are at least aware of what their biases are, I can call this having been sensitised to your orientation. We need more of this in order to move the society ahead.

The Jamaican society, being pluralistic in lifestyles and biology and ethnicity, has developed a morass of ways to denigrate and be biased against groups of people. We have an active cultural history of tracing and insulting and a wide range of words and phrases handed down over generations that successfully denigrate people in our minds.

Yet, oh yet, we can assimilate into other societies, keeping our identity without resorting to enclave living. Caribbean people become elected leaders, military leaders and leading citizens in the societies they adopt... or should I say, that adopt them.

At this time, we should be investing in sensitising ourselves to discover and acknowledge our ingrained biases and learn how to disentangle ourselves from them.

I should be trying to realise how I am biased against my students, co-workers, church sisters and brothers, patients, and members of communities that I am supposed to serve. What are the transgressions that I am giving a bly - a pass without sanction?

Wake Rasta and Other Stories and For Nothing At All by Garfield Ellis; and the clutch of books by Colleen Smith Dennis such as Generation Curse and For Her Son propose lifestyles that are not easily embraced, but when we do, we have allowed ourselves to experience the lives of our fellow citizens, more on their own terms than not.

If we are committed to grow as a society, then we will not be afraid to confront our stories when they are told.


A bookshelf with a few Jamaican books suitable for YA audiences

Here is the Implicit Harvard Test

The test says that I am not biased against men or women who are attractive or not....something like that.

I am still searching for a test to confirm my biases.

I acknowledge that I am biased against artistes who sing off key.