BLACK ANGELS by Rita Murphy


Age Range: 10 - 13
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Narrator 11-year-old Celli lives in segregated Macon, Georgia, with her mother and brother; her father left years earlier. Celli also considers Sophie, an outspoken African-American woman who cooks and cleans for them, to be a part of the family. In 1961, when Celli's mother leaves for a month, Sophie takes care of the children. One evening she takes Celli to a church meeting where the congregation is planning a visit from the Freedom Riders. The resulting civil-rights demonstration lands Sophie in jail and pushes Celli into helping a man pursued by the Klan. Celli also meets, for the first time, her Ohio grandmother who has come with the Freedom Riders. The girl is shocked that her grandmother is African-American and even more shocked to learn that this means her light-skinned father was, too. Celli's rather too-quick adjustment to these surprises can only be explained by her relationship with Sophie and for all its drama, the story falls short of engaging the reader emotionally. The well-intentioned exploration of civil rights and racial identity tends to override the development of the characters, who remain largely one-dimensional, while strained elements of magical realism reinforce the reader's distance. Celli opens her story by describing angels that only she sees, as "Three naked black girls with creamy white wings, throwing stones on my hopscotch board." The angels appear most days, eating angel food, picking blossoms, and, near the end, playing poker on the garage roof. Murphy's strong lyrical writing was used to far better effect in her first novel, Night Flying (2000), where the magical realism was well integrated into the story. Here she has tackled tough issues in too-little depth, with symbolism that obscures rather than enlightens. Still, the story itself is a good one and has its own rewards. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: March 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-385-32776-5
Page count: 154pp
Publisher: Delacorte
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2001


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