SECRET WORDS by Jonathan Strong


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In this gentle tale, Strong (Ourselves, 1971) inhabits the mind and body of a working class Italian-American woman from the slums of Boston to tell of her awakening to the realities of politics, poverty, and child abuse--as well as to the transformative power of love. Nearly 30 years old, Barbara Orsini finally moves out of her parents' house and into her own apartment in the working-class Boston district of Stinted Common. She is just a few shabby blocks from the street where she grew up as the fat, endearing baby of a closeknit Italian-American family, yet she finds herself in a turbulent new world. First, there is Paul, a chubby black man from ""Saint something in the West Indies"" who talks like an Oxford don. Paul fills Barbara with a sense of familiarity yet mystery, and she records the way be talks in an offbeat running journal: ""Yesterday morning going to work I wrote on the corner of the shelter of my bus stop but on purpose one of his sentences which he said on my way out the door: It's not likely to be a terribly pleasant day I fear."" In addition to her budding relationship with Paul, Barbara works as the receptionist at the local counseling center, a job that thrusts her into contact with troubled people from impoverished and oppressed countries around the world. Here, she learns that troubled people--even her own nephew, a battered child--don't change much. In the end, Barbara's simple but truthful observations enhance her confidence enough to let her take to the streets to save the counseling center. Finally, too, she finds the inner freedom it takes to describe her great love for Paul to her bigoted Italian mother. Strong's warmhearted heroine and her family wobble in and out of focus, but her slow blossoming is nonetheless as true and satisfying as fresh bread.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1992
Page count: 230pp
Publisher: Zoland--dist. by ILPA