JUST FAMILY by Tonya Bolden


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Ten-year-old Beryl lives with her parents and her older sister, Randy, in East Harlem in the 1960s. When she discovers that Randy was born before her parents met, to her then-single mother, her world is rocked. Why hadn't anyone told her? Would Randy go live with her biological father someday? Reacting with injured pride, fear, and anger, Beryl lashes out at her mother and sister. Only a trip to South Carolina for a large family reunion helps her see that love is more important than blood. Although some of the language and imagery offers glimpses of Beryl's life, the overall story never coalesces. In the middle of chapters, Bolden (with Vy Higginson, Mama, I Want to Sing, 1992, etc.) creates unexpected shifts in point of view that cause momentary confusion and weaken interest in Beryl. Also troubling is the sense that the entire story takes place in a sanitized historical vacuum. There is only passing mention of the civil rights movement and no sense of the realities facing a black family traveling in the South. The near-lynching of an uncle is presented as part of a distant past--not a still-present threat. These problems mar a novel that has stirring moments but remains unconvincing.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1996
Page count: 149pp
Publisher: Cobblehill