HENRIETHA by Joyce M. Johnson


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A pair of novellas about friendship and endurance in the face of hardship.

In the titular story, Johnson introduces an unlikely pair of friends: Joanna White, a white Canadian journalist struggling to overcome the breakup of her long-term relationship, and Henrietha Browne, a Jamaican woman who has seen her share of troubles. Henrietha relates her history of oppression and abuse as well as her quest to find autonomy in a world beset with racism, sexism and poverty. In the process, Joanna comes to a deeper understanding of her own oppression and how her identity, while playing a role in both her successes and failures, is more of a bridge than a barrier to her communion with women of all races and backgrounds. Waiting for the World to Change, a smaller novella, follows a similar structure as black lawyer Susan Ottawa seeks counsel with Jamaican housekeeper Anita Kingsley. As they share their feelings about men, religion and racism, Susan sees her life in a new light and slowly opens her heart to Anita’s brand of optimistic spirituality. The mirrored structures of both novellas tie them together, but at the same time this convention highlights the somewhat hackneyed style Johnson employs. Henrietha and Anita, while sympathetic and relatable characters, occasionally come off as tokenized mouthpieces for the author’s valuable political ideas rather than individuals in their own right. Henrietha’s choices and life story are a pileup of one tragedy after another, and while it is certain that many people have gone through what she has (and worse), her choices seem like a narrative excuse for Johnson to drive home her point rather than coming organically from Henrietha’s motivations. Both novellas’ climaxes—a revelation by Joanna and an epiphany by Susan—do not arise naturally from the stories’ plots but are tacked on for the sake of closure. Despite the book’s faults, the stories it contains look pointedly at injustices that go ignored and say things that need to be said.

Cathartic and politically thoughtful, if didactic and clichéd.

Pub Date: Sept. 27th, 2010
ISBN: 978-1452039336
Page count: 285pp
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Program: Kirkus Indie
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