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FRESH GIRL by Jaïra Placide

FRESH GIRL

By Jaïra Placide

Age Range: 12 - 15

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-385-32753-6

Placide vividly evokes the Haitian immigrant community in her compelling debut. Although Mardi Desravines alone among her family was actually born in the US, she spent most of her childhood with her grandmother in Haiti. But her beloved Uncle Perrin’s involvement in the unrest of 1991 forces Mardi and her extended family to flee to her parents’ home in New York. Two years later, Mardi still has trouble fitting in, despite her intelligence and diligence. She is mocked as an “island girl” by her classmates, while her close-knit family accuses her of becoming “fresh” and unruly. It gradually appears that something deeper haunts Mardi, something that causes her to put rocks in her bed to prevent dreams and to punish herself with blows and cuts. Her hidden torment boils over with her uncle’s sudden reappearance. While the chronological jumps in the narrative can be disconcerting, Placide does a fine job of slowly uncovering the reasons for Mardi’s anguish and shame. The final revelation (that she was raped by soldiers while in hiding) is depicted with delicacy, and her family’s angry shock and clumsy but sincere support feels painfully genuine. Mardi’s voice is direct, honest, and deceptively simple, peppered with both French and Créole made clear in context, and the setting is redolent with the tastes, smells, and sounds of the neighborhood. The glimpses of the supporting characters are sufficiently rich as to leave the reader wondering about their untold stories. An absorbing window into a vibrant, complex community. (Fiction. 12-15)