Kirkus Star


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Like Nelson (p. 1413), Porte (When Aunt Lucy Rode a Mule, p. 1138, etc.) considers a 12-year-old's response to a parent's death from AIDS. But Porte is more innovative. Isabelle Ramos, the primary narrator, is a friend of the protagonist's grandmother. ""What I couldn't see, or didn't hear, I worked hard to imagine....I'm a writer. I don't have to think twice when it comes to a story."" Isabelle knows Gillian and her mom in New York, and knows that Gillian's dad died of addictions brought back from Vietnam. When Mommie reacts to her diagnosis by fleeing with Gillian to a homeless existence in Florida, the narrator fills in what she learns from Gillian's grandmother with astute conjectures that at once vividly convey a sense of reality and sufficiently distance the reader from a cruelly painful experience. Later, Mommie returns to Grandma's care, and Gillian is sent to her father's brother's family near Oak Ridge, Tenn. Now, in letters to Isabelle, Gillian confides her problems in adjusting to good-hearted but unfamiliar, white-skinned relatives. After Mommie's death, confidences that might have hurt Grandma's feelings continue as Gillian desponds, rebels, and finally makes peace with herself and her new family. Meanwhile, Grandma confronts her own grief by working toward a PhD and ultimately finds work near Gillian's new home. Porte enlivens a refreshingly clichÉ-free narrative with the folktales this multiracial family of strong women tell each other, carefully sourcing each one. Unusually clear-eyed; beautifully written.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1994
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Orchard