The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus (& Giveaway!)

Publisher/Date: Dutton Books for Young Readers; Sept. 2019
Genre(s): Romance, Magical Realism, Young Adult
Pages: 320
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Rating: ★★★★★ 

Reading THE STARS AND THE BLACKNESS BETWEEN THEM by Junauda Petrus feels like the spiritual balm needed in times like these when we need our ancestors more than ever. The romance between 16-year-olds Audre and Mabel is a lyrical, tender love story about the healing magic of love.

When Audre is sent from Trinidad to live with her father in America, she’s still in pain over being caught by her mother in a compromising position with the pastor’s granddaughter – and simultaneously separated from her first love. She is shipped off to Minneapolis, to a father she sees on occasional visits. While in Trinidad, she adored her grandmother, Queenie, and consumed all things of the earth – food, nature, spirits, magic. In America, she has to adjust to a new country and new customs.

What makes it easier is Mabel, the daughter of her father’s best friend, who she spent time with in recent years. They hit it off pretty well, and it’s clear a connection is forming between the girls who used to spend summers eating raspberrries from Mabel’s family garden.

Even through the growing attraction, Mabel is going through her own crisis, dealing with a mysterious pain that is far more serious than she thought. Mabel seeks answers to both living and dying, and with the help of Audre, is given the answers via her ancestors near and far. The spirit of Whitney Houston also plays a prominent role in Mabel’s life.

What I loved about The Stars and the Blackness Between Them is the pure, unyielding love between Audre and Mabel. At 16, to deal with life and death, while still being alive and in the moment is something Junauda Petrus captures with such a depth. The narration, mostly by these two young women, also includes the dreams and thoughts of people in their lives, such as Audre’s grandmother Queenie, whose visions provide courage in the face of the unknown. The inclusion of an incarcerated man who corresponds with Mabel seems even more relevant to the ongoing saga of Black people held hostage by an unjust society.

For those reasons, The Stars and the Blackness Between Them is a book that should be read and loved and celebrated.

Reviewed June 2020

GIVEAWAY!

 

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Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

Publisher/Date:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Sept. 2015
Genre(s):  Romance, Coming of Age
Pages:  336
Website:  http://www.chinelookparanta.com

Rating: ★★★★★ 

I love coming-of-age stories. The transition one makes from child to adulthood is an evolution I watch with fascination. Ijeoma’s growing up is especially captivating because the 11-year-old lives with the threat of falling bombs, food rations and army takeovers during the Nigerian Civil War in UNDER THE UDALA TREES by Chinelo Okparanta (author of Happiness Like Water).

Set in the town of Ojoto, the time is 1968, and the juxtaposition of her typical experiences of a girl her age – attending school and watching the boys play Policeman – contrasts sharply with worries of her father, a drafter obsessed with any report about Biafra’s attempt to defeat the government. Ijeoma sees him poring over newspapers that line his study or listening to his radio-gramophone, and prays for an end to the conflict so that her father, as well everyone around them, can return to normal life.

A subsequent attack leaves Ijeoma fatherless, and fearing her daughter’s safety and well-being, her mother sends her to be a housegirl to a grammar school teacher and his wife in neighboring Nnewi. An adjacent hovel with only a table and mattress – no bathroom or running water – becomes her new home, and Ijeoma has to contend with her new surroundings as well as her mother’s abandonment to prepare them a new life.

Working for the childless couple proves mindless, until she meets Amina, a girl about her age whom she discovers has no family, and luckily, convinces her caretakers they could use an extra pair of hands with chores. They share Ijeoma’s small confines, but it’s where their attraction begins to blossom. Ijeoma and Amina come from different tribes – Ijeoma is Igbo, Amina is Hausa – but they shyly explore the other under the moonlight and stars while taking nighttime baths. Both without family, both working to earn their keep, the girls begin a love affair that sustains them and blinds them to the danger of being found out – until they are found out – and then Ijeoma returns to the care of her mother.

This is where Udala finds its footing. Ijeoma becomes bombarded with the decisions of whether being gay is God’s will or an abomination as her as her mother emphasizes with daily Bible studies and incessant scripture quoting. Her questioning of God’s word leads her to believe that the world is not as black and white as the pages of her Bible, but her mother sees her daughter’s life only in terms of being married and having children. Ijeoma is reluctant to take this path, but it seems the only way out in a country where being gay can be a destructive decision to make.

Under the Udala Trees is a lot of things: a coming-of-age tale, an exploration of Nigerian folklore, an examination of religious doctrine. But quite simply, at its heart, Trees is a bittersweet love story written incredibly well by Okparanta. While the religious overtones can sometimes bog down the story, it leads to Ijeoma becoming introspective about what God sincerely wants. I found the story, despite its somber nature, to be hopeful with every page toward the novel’s end. I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something about Trees that makes me feel as if Ijeoma finds her happy ending.

Reviewed February 2016

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Girls Just Don’t Do That Contest

Girls Just Don’t Do That by Natalie Simone is one of those books that grabbed me the first page. Published in 2009, the college-themed love story is filled with characters that I would have hung out with in my 20s (and probably did). Simone also nailed the stud/femme dynamic to a tee. (Read the Sistahs on the Shelf review of Girls.)

In 2014, Girls Just Don’t Do That has gotten a facelift, and is now the first book in the newly-minted CRAVE trilogy. Three Degrees of Separation, the second book, will be available in May, featuring a now out-of-college Jayne and a new circle of women.

In anticipation of her newest book in the CRAVE trilogy, Natalie Simone would like to bestow 5 lucky winners an autographed copy of her book, Girls Just Don’t Do That! To enter, please fill out the form below.

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In the meantime, watch Simone’s video preview of Girls Just Don’t Do That.

Sistahs on the Shelf’s 8 Years Young Contest

Sistahs on the Shelf turns 8 years young today!

Since 2005, Sistahs on the Shelf has been providing reviews of and interviews with authors of black lesbian books. It’s been a great 8 years, and I hope to continue giving readers many more years of our stories. Most importantly, I thank you for your support to the website.

In honor of Sistahs’ birthday and for your readership over the years, I’m giving away a $25 Amazon or Barnes & Noble gift card (you chose which one)! Just enter the Sistahs on the Shelf’s 8 Years Young Contest. There are three ways to enter and win (and two options can be done daily)! The contest ends at midnight EST on Friday, August 23. One winner will be chosen at random, and the winner will be announced on August 30, 2013.

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Meet the Girl in the Mirror Contest Winner!

The winner of Sistahs on the Shelf’s Girl in the Mirror Contest is:

SapphicBeauty

When I look in the mirror I see a mother, daughter, sister, aunt & friend.  I see a professional woman who enjoys educating and advocating for children.  I see a woman who has loved, been loved, lost love and still believes that there is someone out there who is THAT ONE and is waiting for me.  There are times when I look in the mirror blink and look away, I see a woman who once believed she had been broken.  But, when I look back again, I see a woman who understands that life’s adversities have made her stronger and continue to build her into someone of greatness.  A role model for the young ladies following in her footsteps.  That mirror reveals a woman of depth and strength, built upon the highs, lows on the back of this thing called Life.  I’m not skinny or built to a supermodel’s size.  I have curvy hips and thick thighs.  And when I turn to the side there’s a pronounced fullness to my backside.  My eyes glisten, my hair shines. My lips beckon others with sweet, sultry smiles.  Don’t look into my eyes unless you want to be mesmerized.  Yes, I have a tremendous view of my fantastic self.  But the one image the mirror doesn’t reflect, is hidden within the walls of my chest.  My heart is bigger than any vast sea and completely open and welcoming to someone who is worthy.  This is the total picture my mirror reveals to me.

As the winner, she receives an autographed copy of Alix B. Golden’s Girl in the Mirror!

Congratulations to SapphicBeauty!

Alix B. Golden’s Girl in the Mirror is available now on Amazon.