Four women, who all lived in a group home together as children, wrestle with the challenges of adult life in this novel.
Letti, Tameka, Sophia, and Madison first meet in a facility just outside the rough Nixon Projects in Philadelphia. They have a lot in common, as they were all wards of the state who were repeatedly passed over for adoption before they aged out of the system. With the exception of Tameka, they all have children of their own, but all the children’s fathers have moved on or are in prison. Letti, the most intensely private and emotionally self-sufficient of the crew, has a teenage son, Justin, who’s serving time in juvenile detention. Vulnerable Tameka, who came from an abusive home, is eager to please—and easily manipulated by others. At one point, Sophia and Madison come up with a scheme to make money that leads to Tameka getting raped. Still, she continues to offer her friendship to the young women, and later, as adults, Sophia and Madison continue to take advantage of her, using her to rob her own friends and eventually getting her in serious legal trouble. Meanwhile, Letti remains singularly focused on her career and children. She finishes law school and becomes a public defender, and gets locked in a contest of wills with a zealous prosecutor, Lucas Tibadeaux, who unearths an extraordinary secret about her life. Throughout this novel, Renee (Unconditional, 2018) affectingly depicts Tameka’s wounded naïveté, but she also inspiringly portrays her struggles to liberate herself from her past—she aspires to own a café, and pursues a relationship with a handsome banker. However, the author shows Tameka to be nearly powerless against Sophia’s and Madison’s exploitative whims. Overall, Renee has a keen talent for depicting trauma and the many defensive responses to it, and her book also intriguingly addresses the terrible traps of urban poverty. That said, the plot unwinds at a far too leisurely pace, and some of the dramatic twists sometimes have a soap-operatic feel.
A flawed but still powerful tale of loss and redemption.