A young African-American grows up under horrendous circumstances in 1960s Detroit.
The time period is irrelevant, actually, since 11-year-old narrator Ellen, her family, and their neighbors seem oblivious to the larger world. There are few references to Detroit’s distinguishing landmarks or history, and the isolation of Ellen’s neighborhood is nothing compared to the girl's isolation from those around her. She calls her mother “the woman,” her father “the husband.” Told repeatedly that she is ugly and unwanted, slow and mentally “off,” Ellen does behave in ways strangely innocent for her age, although she seems to keep up at the parochial school she attends and even to excel in catechism class. No one seems to notice that Ellen’s mother is clearly the unbalanced member of the family. Under the power of the “Root Woman,” a voodoo priestess, Mom has determined that evil spirits, in particular those belonging to Ellen’s maternal grandmother, have invaded her daughter and must be removed. Ellen is forced to drink horrible concoctions, including bodily fluids. She endures countless beatings and instances of sexual abuse. She is raped and impregnated by her older brother before she's 12. Her mother, who blames “the husband” for the pregnancy and Ellen for enticing him, causes her to abort, then tells her she imagined the whole thing. “The husband” remains a sad, passive observer, and the teachers at her Catholic school (a setting of undeveloped literary possibilities) notice but say nothing. Finally, a new neighbor moves in, an educated woman by the name of Barbara, who feels a bond with Ellen—though the author doesn’t convey this very persuasively—and becomes her protector. When Barbara takes Ellen’s plight to the authorities, the battle over the girl’s future comes to a head.
Unconvincing first novel, despite some powerful scenes.