24636571.jpgIn the same vein as her critically acclaimed debut novel, Upstate, Kalisha Buckhanon again shares an emotionally beautiful story about today’s youth that magnifies the unforgettable power of hope and the human spirit.

Buckhanon takes us to Chicago, 1992, and into the life of fifteen-year old Shivana Montgomery, who believes all Black women wind up the same: single and raising children alone, like her mother. Until the sudden visit of her beautiful and free spirited Aunt Jewel, Shivana spends her days desperately struggling to understand life and confront the challenges she faces growing up in a tough environment. When she accidentally becomes pregnant by an older man and must decide what to do, she begins a journey toward adulthood with only a mysterious voice inside to guide her. Then, when she falls in love with Rasul, a teenager with problems of his own, together they fight to rise above the circumstances and move toward a more positive future.

Through a narrative that sweeps from slavery onward, Buckhanon unveils Shivana’s connection to a past filled with tragedy, courage, and wisdom.

Poor, black, fifteen, and pregnant Shivana Montgomery’s story is familiar and heartbreakingly common. Harshly treated by her bitter, exhausted, single mother, Shivana unsuccessfully tries to convince herself that her married lover cares about her. Shivana struggles with the choices before her-she can break the stranglehold of despair that life in inner-city Chicago offers or she can give in to the hopelessness that deadens the eyes of her peers. When she meets nineteen-year-old Rasul, he wears down her armor of distrust, providing her shelter and the promise of a future. These two youth, determined to make a decent life for themselves, leave Chicago. When they head East in a beater car and encounter Pennsylvania’s notorious road fog and bounding deer, the shocking inevitability of their failure is devastating. Buckhanon is a daring writer. She takes chances with a counterpoint perspective on the fate of poor black women throughout American history, eloquently told by the spirit of Shivana’s baby, whose efforts to be born end tragically, first with the hanging of her almost-mother in 1892, again with the suicide of her second almost-mother in 1942, and finally on a lonely stretch of highway. Patient teen readers, mature enough to handle the bleak realities of prejudice, poverty, and ignorance, and the crushing sorrow so honestly portrayed by Buckhanon’s brilliance, will be richly rewarded. Reviewer: Beth Andersen

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