Ten stories about women who reclaim their self-respect after suffering physical abuse and personal crises.
This slim collection of short stories is like a self-help group of 10 women taking turns sharing their painful stories of emotionally and/or physically harmful relationships. With each section written in the first person, Harris-Barber’s debut volume makes heavy use of Baltimore’s rough street language to create a sense of authenticity. The “journeys” include rape, prostitution, and betrayals by friends, lovers and husbands. Ultimately, these women find inner strength and a measure of peace through “the grace and shelter of God.” Some of the sections are remarkably poignant: Nyemaha was sexually abused as a child by her stepfather and had her first baby at the age of 13; Suraya was raped and then learned that her best friend was raped and murdered on the same night. There are, however, problems with the stories that compromise the author’s credibility. Religious and anti-gay biases reflected in the tales feel manipulative, becoming more overt as the stories progress. For instance, Tiffany, the least sympathetic among the women, is hardly a victim, and many readers are likely to find her story quite offensive. A self-confident young woman working in an administrative position, she becomes close friends with Riley, a closeted gay co-worker; in fact, she’s the only one in the office he trusts enough to talk to about his sexual orientation and the difficulties he’s faced on his path to self-acceptance. But when Tiffany begins studying the Bible, she decides that God has defined Riley as a sinner. To be true to her new religious convictions, she chooses to end the friendship entirely. Given that it is Riley who has seemingly been betrayed, this story is a strange inclusion in the anthology. Elsewhere, though, the author’s message of hope and redemption will resonate with women confronting similar struggles.
Raw and empowering but derailed in a few instances by what some might consider insensitive turns.