A slight debut, originally self-published, about the unhappy childhood and troubled youth of a girl from a poor black family who finds a better life.
“My mother was always running away.” Thus Song Byrd introduces us to the central trauma of her life. Originally from Virginia, her mother moved to Connecticut and then Philadelphia, where Song Byrd was born and raised. She never knew her father, and her relations with her mother—an abusive prostitute who locked Song Byrd in the bathroom while she went to work at night—were strained at the best of times. Her sister Caramia was a drug addict, her elder brother Freeman a thug who lived off petty theft and went to jail for rape. Her younger brother, Sojourn, was the only member of the family at all close to her, but he drifted around the country and kept in touch only at long intervals. Despite all odds, however, Song Byrd makes something of herself. She is taken under the wing of a teacher at school, eventually graduates from Spelman College, and is hired by a foundation that awards grants to needy organizations. But her success has not come without a price, and Song Byrd often feels that she is stuck between two worlds: the rarefied precincts of the wealthy and privileged who provide the money, and the desperate and hopeless alleyways of the poor whom she tries to help through her grants. She seeks help from a therapist and learns to deal with the painful memories of her childhood. She also relies on her husband, Anthony, and takes pleasure and comfort from her children Skylar, Paz, Olga, and Felice. In the end, she is full of hope for the future.
Earnest and heartfelt, almost painfully so, but also so marred by self-help platitudes (“My inner self is beautiful”) that it can sound like the transcript of a daytime talk show.