Sixteen-year-old Dionne Braithwaite and her 10-year-old sister, Phaedra, are sent to the tiny town of St. John, Barbados, to stay with their grandmother while their mother, Avril, recovers from a long depression.
Avril, a nurse, has been overwhelmed with sadness after witnessing the deaths of her patients to AIDS following the sudden disappearance of her abusive husband, Errol. With Avril unable to take care of her family, it was Dionne who took on the responsibility of caring for her mother and her little sister. But in her grandmother’s house in Barbados, Dionne doesn't need to take care of anyone but herself—and she finds it unnerving. Phaedra, however, fits right in—to her, Barbados feels like the home Brooklyn never was—and she gleefully absorbs the stories of her mother’s people. The mystery of what happened to Avril to weight her life with such sadness fuels the book, becoming the driving force behind Dionne’s desire to discover the pieces of Avril left behind in her old Barbados bedroom. But as Avril delays returning to take the girls back to Brooklyn, Dionne begins to act out and make unwise relationship decisions, leading her grandmother to believe she's on her way to becoming the kind of "easy" girl who lets herself be used by men. What Dionne’s grandmother doesn’t realize is that the one thing Dionne had learned from watching Avril was “that if you wanted to keep a man, he should love you at least a little bit more than you loved him”—one of many moments of awareness that permeate this delightful debut novel.
An engrossing and poignant coming-of-age story populated with engaging, well-drawn characters.