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 In a knife-edged, poignant debut, Brooklyn-based Verdelle cuts to the heart and innermost thoughts of a black girl--a girl coming of age in 1960's Detroit--who struggles against racial limits and family entrapments to develop a mind yearning for fulfillment. When Denise's mother, Margarete, freshly widowed, leaves Denise with her grandmother in rural Virginia, the little girl is heartbroken. But she adapts quickly to country ways so that when she's summoned home to Detroit several years later to help her now- pregnant mother, her near-grown older brothers, and their new stepfather, she hates to go. A short, though warm, homecoming ushers in fresh realities: Denise's superior cooking and cleaning skills clinch for her the position of family housekeeper, while her down-home speech greatly impedes her progress at school. Taken under the wing of a new and exacting teacher, Miss Gloria Pearson, Denise begins to shine as a student and to dream of a better life; but in the face of mounting chores on the arrival of Margarete's baby, along with a tense situation at home as stepfather-son relations deteriorate, Denise has to make a Hobson's choice between future and family. She finds the will to juggle her responsibilities--a triumph of determination and dignity, but one with a terrible cost as she is unable to keep her favorite, ne'er- do-well brother, Luke Edward, from harm's way. Concerned after having watched him humiliated by their grandmother for shoplifting, and later driven from home for his attitude, Denise tries to protect him when his next theft is discovered, but her warning falls on deaf ears. Both the vitality and perils of life in divided families--as well as the larger conflict between a woman's duty and desire- -receive deft, honest handling here, revealing a vibrant new voice in our midst. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1995
ISBN: 1-56512-085-X
Page count: 312pp
Publisher: Algonquin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1995