Camilla's Roses

Camilla’s Roses is Bernice L. McFadden’s sixth novel.  I’ll have just reached the halfway mark on my book challenge to read all of her books in order of publication this year. So far this has been an interesting challenge.  I’m enjoying observing how her writing style has developed and improved with each novel.

Not knowing what to expect, I have to say that Camilla’s Roses took me on a rollercoaster ride of emotions.  The novella is separated into three distinct parts – the present, the past, and the present.  McFadden uses the section on the past to show us img_4109Camilla’s upbringing, her relationship with her family, and her coming of age.  She is born to two parents who are weak, incompetent, and driven by their personal demons.  Luckily for Camilla she is raised by her grand-parents despite the difficulty of having to take care of so many people in their home.  With all the difficulty of growing up that Camilla had she only wanted to leave and to never look back once she went off to college.

The novella develops twists and turns in ways you won’t be able to predict.  With sensitivity McFadden exposes the good, the bad, and the ugly of the ups and downs of life.  “We forget about the people we love sometimes.” (Camilla’s Roses, p. 120)  Camilla learns that she can’t hide from her past and her family, for this is what has  made her who she is.  However, is she ready to reconcile with all of those difficulties in her past and become an even better black woman in the end?

Bernice L. McFadden’s writing style in Camilla’s Roses can be described as rhythmic and  sharp.  At times the transitions are so quick that if you’re not paying attention you just might miss a piece of important information that’s been dropped unexpectedly.  This story is tightly recounted and gives loads of information throughout, which is probably why the second part, the past, is the longest part of the novella.  It gives Camilla’s and her family’s back story.  Despite it’s 203 pages, I didn’t feel too unsatisfied at the end, although I’d have liked to have seen what became of her husband.

For any of  you out there interested in reading more from black women writers Camilla’s Roses wouldn’t be a bad place to start.  I’d say it’s a little snack of what is to come if it’s your first read of Bernice L. McFadden.  I think I’d have to suggest  Sugar as the ideal first book to pick up from McFadden’s list of novels because it is an incredible story with complex and unforgettable characters.   If you’re interested in themes that touch on black women, black community, mother/daughter relationships, colorism, and more Camilla’s Roses is for you too.  Check out the video below to learn more about how Bernice L. McFadden started her writing career.

My copy:  Camilla’s Roses, hardcover, 203 pages (Dutton)

My rating:  * * * * 

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Born on a Tuesday

Born on a Tuesday opens following a gang of street boys, who are hanging in the streets and getting up to no good. They spend time smoking wee wee, pillaging, committing random acts of violence and even murder. We are introduced to the main character, Dantala, “born on a Tuesday”, alias Ahmad. His poignant first person voice recounts his coming of age story in northern Nigeria.

This poignant novel takes us through friendships, political strife, islamic extremism, and death. We as readers learn more about the real life difficulties of growing up a boy in northern Nigeria. Dantala is a boy who has seen a lot already from the beginning of the novel. In spite of this, he is still not enough street smart. He is away from his home and is supposed to be studying the Koran, Arabic, Hausa, and Math. He’s an excellent student but a horrific incident sends him running for his life from Bayan Layi. We have no idea how old he is but it’s quite clear he can’t be more than 15 years old. He finds himself weak and sick in a town called Sokoto. This is where the growth of Dantala and Born on a Tuesday continues.

I have to say I was excited to buddy read this novel with The African Book Addict. We both owned Born on a Tuesday and were anxious to get to it.  This book touches on many typical themes as most coming of age stories but this one goes much further. It explores political power, religion, and how religious extremism starts and can envelop a community and the innocent.  This novel depicts all the complexities that we can’t think of.  The writing style and the author’s capacity to make the reader feel so many different emotions in so few pages are the best things about Born on a Tuesday.  I was engrossed immediately and liked Dantala’s personality. At times I found myself mentally rooting for him and urging him not to make bad choices.

The structure of the novel was cleverly done.  It is separated into five parts ranging from 2003-2010. Part 3 begins with a chapter called Words. It’s from here where we read Dantala’s English word journal. These sections, written in italics, explore words that he had learned in English and through his journal we go deeper into his thoughts about what is going on in his life through them.  It is a diary of sorts disguised as a simple word journal. Some of the words he writes about are obsess, anthropology, terrify, discovery shrug, etc.  These passages are some of the more vulnerable moments of Dantala’s thoughts. It’s a clever device that Elnathan John uses for us to see what Dantala really thinks and feels about things.  Despite this being a first person narrative, we are immediately sucked in and believe everything he recounts. He’s a pretty reliable narrator too since he doesn’t try to lie about his feelings or actions when he is embarrassed (and there are quite a few embarrassing moments) or wrong.  I know usually readers feel first person narratives get a little too close for comfort but I can’t explain exactly why but this one could only work in that point of view.

This is the first novel I’ve read by Elnathan John and I can’t wait to get to another one. His writing is unfaltering and informative. Born on a Tuesday was shortlisted for the NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature in 2016. After reading this one I’d like to know which title won.  Elnathan John is a writer and novelist and is one of Nigeria’s most well-known satirist.  If you’d like to read more of Elnathan John’s writing check out his blog Elnathan’s Dark Corner.

My copy:  Born on a Tuesday, Elnathan John (Cassava Republic), paperback 261 pages

My rating:  * * * * *

I’m an affiliate for The Book Depository. It would be much appreciated to click the link below if you’re interested in picking up any of my recommendations. It will help fund my incessant book buying, reading, and reviewing.
http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=browngirlreading

 

Loving Donovan

IMG_1392Loving Donovan is the third novel I’ve picked up from Bernice L. McFadden.  And I surely won’t wait so long to pick up another.  I previously read Glorious and then Gathering of Waters.  I really enjoyed both of these books.  In light of Loving Donovan being re-released this year with a modern fresh new cover, I was enticed to pick it up.  Loving Donovan, as all of McFadden’s work, shares some unique characteristics that define particularities in her writing style.  She manages to balance character development and plot to a fault, particularly in this one.  The two principal characters Campbell and Donovan are developed from childhood to adulthood.  We are given the chance to know them integrally. The book is split into 3 main sections:  Her, Him, and Them.  Through Campbell’s and Donovan’s development, the story develops too, while we are introduced to a myriad of spirited characters and some thought-provoking situations.

McFadden is clearly adept in keeping the reader entertained, captivated, and on our toes to try to figure out what’s going to happen next.  The rich characters, life situations, and language all wrapped up in such a small book and saying so much is a feat.  You will laugh. You will be profoundly saddened and you will be rooting for love the entire time.  This book is about love of all types – family, friendship, romantic.  It’s also about how one becomes who they become and how family and unexpected encounters shape a big part of who they become and how they can change one’s life profoundly.  It is part coming of age story and part love story.  I think that’s what makes it so special.  I do feel that if you haven’t read any of McFadden’s work you should definitely give this one a try.  She is a contemporary African-American writer that I feel should be getting a lot more press.  I’ll surely continue to read through her many treasures to discover more of her touching memorable characters.  As a matter of fact, next month I’ll probably be picking up Sugar and This Bitter Earth, a two-part story about a young African-American prostitute called Sugar Lacey who moves to Arkansas to start a new life.

Sexy

12523Good looking.  Fine.  Cute. Hunky.  Sexy.  Hot.  The word sexy can best be defined as being sexually suggestive, stimulating, or appealing.  However equivocal the word, since it can be used to describe how one feels and how one is perceived, that is the main focal point of the Young Adult novel by Joyce Carol Oates.  The novel begins with an intriguing first line which sucked me in immediately.  “Soon as he turned sixteen, put on weight and began to get attention for his looks, things began to turn weird.” (Sexy, p. 1)  That first chapter then continues on with descriptions of how good-looking, shy and sexy Darren Flynn is. Of course these are the opinions of the way he is perceived, spoken by the narrator.  Narrated in the third person with peppered dialogue here and there, we get to the crux of sexy and other issues that are floating around in Darren’s head and the other character’s too.

Darren Flynn is tallish light-haired and built like a swimmer/diver – broad shoulders, slim waist.  We are introduced to the two most import parts of his world, which are his home and school life.  These are the two places that an adolescent has to fit.  It seems that fitting in at home can prove to be just as difficult as fitting in at school.  Once these worlds are constructed for us along with the important characters the story takes off into directions you won’t believe.  Oates took the word sexy and exploited it to the max and that’s what I admired about the writing and the plot.  Sexy is not a typical Young Adult novel.  It has typical physical characteristics of a Young Adult novel because the chapters are fairly short, the typography is large, and the pages have wide margins.  However, Sexy has a literary style of writing and isn’t just a plot with typical characters that you’ve seen before and the plot is not predictable.  Some of the main themes of Sexy are coming of age, budding sexuality, friendship and trust, loyalty and its importance, how rumours get spread and can poison the innocent.  It’s worth the read and the 4 stars I gave it on Goodreads.

 Joyce Carol Oates is known for having written over 40 novels, plays, short stories, poetry, novellas, and non-fiction work.   Sexy is her fourth Young Adult novel published in 2005.  Some school libraries have attempted to ban Sexy because of its mature themes and strong language, although I don’t think it’s any worse than what adolescents hear and see daily on television or the internet. It’s for that reason I’d love to hear what adolescents have to say about it.  Some of her other Young Adult novels are Big Mouth & Ugly Girl (2002), Small Avalanches and Other Stories (2003), After the Wreck, I Picked Myself Up, Spread My Wings, and Flew Away (2006), Two or Three Things I forgot to Tell You (2012) and Freaky Green Eyes, which was critically acclaimed while being designated as one of the best children’s books of 2003. If you’ve read Sexy please comment below and tell me what you thought of it, especially if you’re an adolescent.

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