Books by Diane McKinney-Whetstone

LAZARETTO by Diane McKinney-Whetstone
Released: April 12, 2016

"A sophisticated and compelling novel that comes alive through a rich cavalcade of vibrant characters and a suspenseful plot."
McKinney-Whetstone's sixth novel (Trading Dreams at Midnight, 2008, etc.) explores a fateful shooting that rocks the close-knit African-American community surrounding the Lazaretto Hospital in post-Civil War Philadelphia.Read full book review >
TRADING DREAMS AT MIDNIGHT by Diane McKinney-Whetstone
Released: June 24, 2008

"A vibrant, perfectly drawn setting and natural dialogue save an otherwise unremarkable story. "
McKinney-Whetstone returns to familiar territory—the African-American community of West Philadelphia—in her latest novel (Blues Dancing, 1999, etc.). Read full book review >
LEAVING CECIL STREET by Diane McKinney-Whetstone
Released: April 1, 2004

"Heartfelt fourth from McKinney-Whetstone (Blues Dancing, 1999, etc.), who has a true talent for strong characters, effortlessly natural dialogue, and prose that flows."
A West Philly block in 1969. Read full book review >
BLUES DANCING by Diane McKinney-Whetstone
Released: Nov. 1, 1999

McKinney-Whetstone's third novel (Tempest Rising, 1998, etc.) examines a contemporary African-American community in Philadelphia, but her elementary plot and monochromatic characters don—t leave much of an impression. Verdi is in her 40s, her past marked by a brief episode of heroin use in college during the 1970s. Flashbacks reveal that taking heroin was in part a dark spinoff of her wild love for Johnson, with whom she discovered the rapture of souls at age 19. After Verdi passed out in her own vomit in a campus men's room, her snooty history professor, Rowe, chivalrously took her home, where he and his wife, Penda, nursed her back to stability, kept up appearances for her family, and prevented her expulsion from school. Eventually, Rowe left Penda for Verdi, and they have lived in tense affection for several decades. Now Johnson's back in town, a drug-free fund-raiser for nonprofit organizations. He never did like Rowe, though he has to admit that his rival saved Verdi's life. But now that life seems a ho-hum round of scheduled pleasures, and when her cousin Kitt hooks up the former lovers, Verdi and Johnson's passion reignites. Is it peril or paradise? While Verdi's torn between gratitude to Rowe and desire for Johnson, her aunt Posie has a stroke. But Kitt's mute daughter, Sage, sees beautiful colors when Johnson and Verdi reconnect. Stressed out by the whole business, Verdi goes to the brink of doing heroin again, but Sage will rescue her from disaster. Aunt Posie is going to be fine, Rowe is revealed to be a soulless pretender, and Johnson and Verdi get it all back together. The author's fans will enjoy her extended scenes of domestic life and conflict, and will know enough not to expect the same sort of rapture that Verdi shares with Johnson. Read full book review >
TEMPEST RISING by Diane McKinney-Whetstone
Released: Feb. 4, 1998

McKinney-Whetstone (Tumbling, 1996) scores big on mood and language, less on plot and character. A trio of Philadelphia-born sisters is the focus of this solid if uninspired second novel: Shern, Victoria, and Bliss are born to loving, well-meaning parents, but the forces of circumstance cause their lives to change drastically one day in 1965. Their mother, the light-skinned, lighthearted Clarise, and their father, the dark-skinned, dashing Finch, have a charmed marriageuntil Finch's catering business hits rocky waters, and dire financial need causes him to go out on a fateful crabbing trip. An inexperienced boater, he drowns in a sudden storm, thinking, as he dies, of Clarise and the girls. Clarise, in mourning, is prescribed Valium; no one knows that she's allergic to the drug, and so when she collapses it's assumed that she's attempted suicide by overdose and is having a breakdown caused by her husband's death. As a result, Clarise is institutionalized and the girls are assigned to foster care. They end up living with the hard-edged Mae, a gambler, and her neglected daughter Ramona, in a blue-collar neighborhood where everything is foreign to them. Although Mae is decent to Shern, Victoria, and Bliss, she has some serious problems of her own, and her abusive behavior toward Ramona strains credibility, even though Ramona herself is not the most lovable of characters. In fact, Ramona's interactions with her boyfriend and her boyfriend's father are among the more disturbing elements in the story. Meanwhile, Clarise survives her ordeal in the asylum, but when she gets out, she can't at first find her daughters. It takes time, persistence, and luck, but eventually the family is reunited, and even Mae and Ramona seem moved to try to rebuild their own relationship. A satisfying end makes up, somewhat, for a convoluted storyline. McKinney-Whetstone's material this time, though, is not nearly as strong as her voice. (Author Tour) Read full book review >
TUMBLING by Diane McKinney-Whetstone
Released: May 1, 1996

A bouncy, moody, musical—if improbable—debut by an author who, like a good blues singer, is strong on style and interpretation even while covering familiar material. Echoes of Toni Morrison's Sula and Jazz pervade—without overwhelming—the story here, though to her credit McKinney- Whetstone's setting (Philadelphia in the 1940s and '50s) is an entirely original landscape in African-American fiction. The pavements and brownstones rattle and hum with the sounds, textures, and spirit of South Philly's black middle- and working-class residents. This is a novel crowded with characters, the most prominent and memorable being Noon, the book's wounded matriarch, a holy roller with a dark past, and her trying, wayward husband Herbie. He is jazz to her gospel, but the score of the couple's marriage changes abruptly when two girls, first an infant, then a five-year-old, are abandoned on their doorstep. The twin discoveries of the children's identities constitute dramatic, though incredible, subplots. More compelling are the girls' eventual love for each other, the chronicle of their adolescent growing pains, and a heated romantic rivalry over a slick developer. The contest for this man's affection unfolds against the specter of a proposed freeway being run through the neighborhood. The threatened displacement of family and friends also rends the girls' relationship. The two are eventually reconciled by the efforts of the novel's most sharp-edged figure, the blues singer Ethel, a hellion entangled with each of the main characters. McKinney-Whetstone convincingly presents the community's fight for self-determination as the outward manifestation of the psychic struggle of African-Americans during a period of tremendous social and cultural turmoil. A gifted prose writer with a tremendous sense of place, McKinney-Whetstone shows the potential here to move up the ranks of novelists currently exploring the African-American experience. (Author tour) Read full book review >