Coleman (Sweetwater American, 2014) tells the story of Jadie Santiago, a young woman starting her career, entering into a new love affair, and hindered by a tragic childhood.
Jadie’s painful past is inescapable as she passes her father—homeless and incoherent on the street—during her daily commute to work. She struggles with the guilt; she has not helped her father or forgiven him, thinking, “Damn my demons to hell. How foolish of me to have even considered that a damaged being could heal.” Via conversational snippets that occur between Jadie and her father on the street, Coleman builds interest by slowly revealing why he abandoned her and how he became homeless. Jadie’s trauma unfolds throughout the novel, complicating the storyline and contextualizing her feelings of hopelessness. The novel portrays both romance and melodrama, shifting from racy sex scenes to a dinner party ruined by jealousy, as well as flashbacks of an ailing mother. Coleman also limns moments of cultural context through Jadie’s memory of visiting El Salvador and frying plantains for her Washington, D.C., roommates, although more of these details would have been welcome. Some plot developments occur a little too easily, such as Jadie’s finding a promising career at a small literary agency. And relationships often seem lightly sketched. However, Jadie’s reaction to her father is earnest and poignant, and Coleman conveys a profound range of emotions in response to her situation, from shame to love to fear. The real strength of this book, however, is in its empathy for broken families.
A compassionate coming-of-age novel about the down but not out.