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

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First Love by C. Truth

Publisher/Date:  Penny Publishing, LLC, June 2011
Genre(s):  Romance, Coming Out, Young Adult
Pages:  181
Website:  http://www.bflyctruth.com

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

As much as I want to, I can never tell a book character what to do. And not just because she’s not a live, breathing person, but because when it comes to a teenager like Savannah in FIRST LOVE by C. Truth, she wouldn’t listen to me anyway.

She’s 17, a high school senior and falling in love with best friend Bree. She can’t talk to her by-the-Bible mom, who wants a better friend for her daughter than the openly-gay Bree. And she can’t tell Bree she likes her, because she has a girlfriend. She has virtually no one to turn to with her feelings.

I wish she would listen to me. But what could I tell a book-smart, hard-working girl like Savannah, coming from someone older?

  1. Don’t get a boyfriend just to please your mother. When handsome football player Marco approaches and asks you out, say no. Just because he’s 5’7’’ with chocolate skin and deep waves in his hair, and he’s the guy all the girls want, doesn’t mean you really want to go out with him and you shouldn’t get him caught up in your confusion about your sexuality. It can only lead to heartache for both you. Especially when you kiss him and you’re thinking about Bree.
  2. Be honest with yourself. Savannah, you spend a lot of time in your room pondering your sexuality, and that’s good. But you also beat yourself about liking girls when that’s truly where your heart is. Stop it, be who you are. There’s nothing wrong with liking girls. I spent my own high school years denying whom I was, only to feel like I should have just owned up to my feelings.
  3. Tell Bree how you feel. Girl, it’s hard, I know. Telling someone how you feel is never easy. But this is Bree, your homie. You’ve known her since elementary school. She’s told you all about her girlfriends, and you know she would do anything for you. I find it hard to believe she would abandon you after you told her the truth. And don’t worry about that girlfriend of hers; she’ll reveal her true colors – and whom do you think she’ll coming running to advice and comfort?
  4. Don’t make such a big deal about sex. I know at 17 it seems like sex is the best thing on earth. Don’t get me wrong; it’s amazing. But you know what, Savannah? It’s better with the right person. Feel me. Don’t be in such a hurry to give what’s your most precious gift. Cause when it’s right, ooh wee!
  5. Get your mother a boyfriend. Your mother is a piece of work. These praying rants y’all do to save you from lesbianism aren’t going to work. Since your mother is forever beating down the church doors, find her a deacon to work out her own issues with.

Now that I’ve taken care of Savannah, let’s move on to C. Truth. First Love is a dramatic book for sure, but the both the story and the writing needed work. There are more than a few grammatical issues, and some of the situations Savannah found herself in seemed too far-fetched, like her first college visit which went swimmingly considering how complicated her life became by that point. I read so many 5-star reviews for First Love, and while I was reading, I was a little disappointed in how the story unravelled.

Full of youthful decisions and text messages, First Love is good for the drama and the angst of beginning love. Some girls could identify with the identity and parental issues Savannah faces. Teens can read it also for C. Truth’s 8 Love Lessons she provides at the end of the book. Too bad she didn’t make Savannah follow any of them.

Reviewed November 2013

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

Publisher/Date:  Algonquin Young Readers, Aug. 2013
Genre(s):  Young Adult, Identity, Transsexual
Pages:  256
Website:  http://www.algonquinyoungreaders.com/author/sara-farizan

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

The hunger to have the girl you love is magnified tenfold in a country where women are kept covered and veiled, and same-sex love could mean your life. Sara Farizan depicts this longing in unadorned language in IF YOU COULD BE MINE, with anger and hurt expressed through Sahar, a 17-year-old Iranian girl willing to undergo a sex change to marry her best friend.

Sahar fell in love with Nasrin when they were six years old, Nasrin commanding Sahar’s heart with her bossy attitude, and now as high school seniors, it’s clear not much has changed, except the fact that Sahar no longer has her mother, who died five years prior. Her Maman was the one to whom she confessed her love for Nasrin, and was told to never speak of it again.

Yet Sahar pursued her dream girl, their love expressed in sweet kisses behind closed doors. Watching Nasrin dance to American songs while Sahar studies to get into university. Holding hands in the street (it’s considered innocent). Their secret love feels like child’s play in their fantasy world – especially after Nasrin is promised to an older wealthy suitor, a doctor no less. Sahar is heartbroken, and that’s when she gets the idea to have a sex change to stop this impending marriage from happening.

Surprisingly, sexual reassignment surgery is legal in Iran, and this is the route Sahar is willing to undergo to be with Nasrin. Her desperation is visible in the transsexual support group she visits to weigh her options, where she’s blinded the promise of what could be with Nasrin. Changing her gender is not necessarily what she wants, and who can blame her? She’s aware of the horrid way men treat women in her country, behaving by a rigid patriarchal code, but what else can she do to keep Nasrin to herself?

This is not an easy decision for Sahar, especially since she keeps her plans hidden from Nasrin, which nagged me as I read. If there’s anyone she’s supposed share everything with, it would be the girl she loves. However, it’s Sahar’s indecision (and the significant people her life) that dominate the book. A sex change is not something one can decide on a whim, especially in her case since it could create more problems than not. Not that I believe Nasrin, with her self-absorbed self, would appreciate it.

Goes to show teenage love is the strongest love (at least at the time). You’ll think you and your first girlfriend will be together forever, even when this love is trying on wedding dresses to marry someone else. Yet, Sahar has to come to this conclusion on her own. Her story graciously and truthfully captures those emotions: from giddyness, to despondency, to anger at not having the love seemingly perfect for her. However, the silver lining of Mine is that Sahar stays true to herself.

I enjoyed Farizan’s writing style in Mine – simple, profound – and creating such a brave, intelligent character like Sahar. I wonder if the author will venture revisiting Sahar in adulthood. I’m quite sure her story doesn’t end here.

Reviewed October 2013

BrookLyn’s Journey by Coffey Brown

Publisher/Date: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, June 2012
Genre(s): Young Adult, Coming of Age, Identity
Pages: 258
Website: http://www.coffeybrownbooks.com

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

There were times reading BROOKLYN’S JOURNEY by Coffey Brown I didn’t quite know what to feel.

On one hand, it’s an affecting story about 18-year-old BrookLynn Scott living an abusive home. On the other hand, the unlikely love story surrounding her and Gabriella Michaels is almost like an fanciful fairy tale, because Gabby saves her in a way BrookLyn never thought possible – with unconditional love.

Growing up with a belt-swinging father and a snitch of a mother caring only to save herself, Brooklyn is trapped in her own house. She is the baby of the family, her brother and sisters long escaped, and her goal is to excel in high school so she can attend college far away from her parents. Since she wasn’t allowed out except to go to school or church, no parties and definitely no boys, her plan seemed attainable.

It also seems like fate when she runs into Gabby, and her church mate uses this chance to finally be with dream girl BrookLyn. As Gabby confesses her affection for the quiet girl in the choir and asks for her trust, BrookLyn imagines a life free of pain. With an inheritance and her own home at 19, Gabby woos BrookLyn with promises of love, protection and most of all, normal teenage experiences. In every step of their relationship, it appears impossible that BrookLyn has found someone who will love her, scars and all, but she holds on tight to this impossibility – because if not, what else does she have left?

I applaud Brown for the message she sends with BrookLyn’s Journey, because the questioning BrookLyn has about her sexuality is authentic to what some teenagers face when they’ve been sheltered and discover their first attraction to the same sex. Her portrayal of the horrid emotions of child emotional and physical abuse, as unfortunate as it sounds, was too real. I wanted BrookLyn to leave this house or to have someone, her older siblings especially, to take her away from her awful excuse for parents. No one would save the studious girl who missed days at school so her bruises wouldn’t be noticed.

Yet when that someone comes in the form of Gabby, I was skeptical at first. With everything BrookLyn’s been through, I didn’t want to see her hurt again, and I couldn’t wrap my mind around how quickly they fell for each other, more so Gabby. She is totally in love with BrookLyn, and I think being in her situation, BrookLyn was grabbing on to any life preserve she could find.

But the one thing I love about BrookLyn is that she’s resilient; she may not know what love is, but she surely knows what love isn’t. And that’s what she sees in Gabby – someone who won’t hurt her again. That kind of love is powerful, and I wish every child, neglected or not, has someone – whether a parent, teacher, aunt or uncle, best friend or significant other – she can receive that kind of love from.

There are other things about BrookLyn’s Journey – the sometimes awkward dialogue, the plausibility of the love affair – that I question, but Brown does a decent job giving BrookLyn a voice that teenagers will undoubtedly relate to and cheer for.

Reviewed October 2013

The Gerbera Series: The Preludes, Clear Sense and The Sweetness by Ninamaste MaTuri

Publisher/Date:  Lulu.com, Mar. 2011 (The Preludes); Nov. 2011 (Clear Sense); May 2013 (The Sweetness)
Genre(s):  Young Adult, Coming of Age
Pages:   56 (The Preludes); 78 (Clear Sense); 96 (The Sweetness)
Website:  http://www.ninamastematuri.com

The Preludes:★★★½☆ 
Clear Sense:★★★★☆ 
The Sweetness:★★★★☆ 

Ninamaste MaTuri’s The Gerbera series has all the makings of childhood love, pain and laughter – and at the helm are Melanie, Adrianna and Nicole, three very unique girls diverged on the path to womanhood.

THE PRELUDES is just the beginning. It takes one back to your early school days: experiencing first crushes, attempting to fit in, and realizing your parents can be either a best friend or a major disappointment. It introduces tomboy Melanie, mother’s baby Adrianna and lovelorn Nicole, all wishing for something much needed in their lives. Melanie, with a white mother and black father, would like to accepted and not out of place in her class, being the only brown face with a lopsided Afro, and a cousin who teases her because of it; things begin looking up when her new teacher, with deeply brown skin and wavy black hair, comes into her classroom. Adrianna’s story starts at her mother’s funeral; after the service, the grief of missing her mother is exacerbated by father’s womanizing ways. Nicole’s father, on the other hand, is the shield against her mother’s unhappiness of Nicole’s masculine demeanor, but daydreams of Crystal help soothe her mother’s harsh words.

The Bottom Line:  Although each story is told very quickly, The Preludes sets itself up well to continue the girls’ journey. While Melanie stood out as a leader, I was enthralled most by Nicole, whose resilience to be herself and her relationship with her father shine. On the other hand, it’s evident Adrianna has a long road ahead of her, and she’s is the one I connect to the least.


The trip continues with CLEAR SENSE, and as the girls are now teenagers, their issues and desires become deeper. The novella reminds you of how intense we all felt about our problems at that age (or so it seems), that we would do anything to have what we want. Melanie’s secret admiration of Tiffany seems to be in vain, because Tiffany thinks the loving gestures are the work of her boyfriend, and Melanie has to concoct a plan to show her how she feels; will she finally get her dream girl? Adrianna has had it up to here with her father’s casual treatment of women since losing her mother, made even more apparent when Adrianna believes she’s found the guy she thinks could be the one. Can she really trust him? Nicole spends most of Clear Sense hiding her true feelings for Crystal, and at the same time being a good friend to her. Will her concern of Crystal lead her to something more?

The Bottom Line:  Clear Sense is a good continuation of the Gerbera series, and we are privy to Adrianna and Nicole’s aches, and Melanie’s antics with her cousins. It’s the more humorous of the series. Yet they all have more growing up to do, though, especially Melanie, who realizes something important in her pursuit of Tiffany. Watching them go through it is worth the transition you see in the next book in the series.


The third book in the Gerbera series, THE SWEETNESS, is just that, but I would venture to add it’s a tad bittersweet. The girls are now young adults, living in the real world with bills, marriage and college on their minds. Melanie, now working hard at a 9-to-5, has a model for a girlfriend and enjoys the perks that come with having a beautiful woman on her arm; too bad it’s someone else she shares sparks with. Adrianna wants to move from her tragic past to a future with Thaddeus, the love she met in Clear Sense. It’s the first man in her life, her father, she has to heal her heart with in order to give her all to Thaddeus. College-bound Nicole has found the sweetness with Shelia who loves her unconditionally after Crystal’s absence. All seems to be bright in her life until her mother makes an unexpected appearance. She’s a tough cookie, though, and knows it’s something greater in store than what’s in her past.

The Bottom Line: The Sweetness is the best of the three novellas in that plots are fleshed out and we see a superb progression from the girls’ upbringing to adulthood. I see Melanie and Adrianna slowly learning how to love. Nicole, though, is the one I rooted for the most because she grew from a broken home and her mother’s abuse to a confident young lady through her father’s love. The Sweetness is also the book where characters from each girl’s story merge together. MaTuri promises more in her next book – centered around family planning – and I’m waiting to see what lessons life will teach these women next.

Reviewed September 2013

Read the Meet This Sistah Interview with Ninamaste MaTuri

37 Things I Love (in no particular order) by Kekla Magoon

Publisher/Date:  Henry Holt and Co. (BYR), May 2012
Genre(s):  Young Adult
Pages:   224
Website:  http://www.keklamagoon.com

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Summertime is what most high school students look forward after a year of homework, teachers and exams. Ever walk down a school hallway after the final bell has rung on the last of day school? You might get mowed down.

For Ellis, though, the summer means spending more time with her friends, but most especially with her father, still in a coma after a work accident two years prior. She currently skips her first period class just to see him, though he can’t hear or notice she’s there. Her father’s condition is also a source of contention between Ellis and her mother, believing it’s time to take him off life support. Ellis knows he will wake up one day, and become the man she remembers, take her on new adventures, reassert himself as no. 1 of one of the 37 things in her life she loves.

Most of the 37 things – from goldfish crackers to warm chocolate chip cookies to rain on a stain-glass window – in some way remind her of her father or the void he leaves in her life.

One thing she loves, her best friend Abby, manages to distract her, whether it’s telling Ellis about her million and one boyfriends or sneaking her out to a party, which turns out to be one crazy night (it involves jello – that is all). Abby’s selfishness is a welcome distraction so she won’t have to think about how strained things are with her mother or the therapist she forces Ellis to see. But her shallowness slowly becomes the thing that makes them drift apart because Abby can’t relate to Ellis’ family woes. But one person can.

Cara. Both Abby and Ellis’ former best friend became estranged from them for reasons unknown to Ellis. Chalk it up to high school differences, but when her and Cara reconnect, Ellis discovers how much she missed their friendship; it gives her the warmth she needs to deal with her so-called life. Their connection also sparks something tenuous between them that Ellis isn’t sure she can handle right now, but doesn’t want to lose — even if it means giving up Abby.

37 Things I Love (in no particular order) is heart-wrenching, because as a daughter who’s lost her own father, I can empathize with Ellis. It’s tough to watch the man who seemed like the strongest man person in the world, wither away, and on that note, I got Ellis. But there were times I felt I didn’t get enough into Ellis’ head, and I wasn’t too keen on how Abby took advantage of Ellis and never offered much in return. In a lot of the book, Ellis is a pushover, the only real fight she shows is battling her mom to take her dad off life support. The brightest spot comes in Ellis possibly discovering love for the first time with Cara; it’s sincere and sweet. Magoon captures Ellis’ confusion well, and the end of 37 Things may find you caring for just one more thing.

Reviewed August 2013

On the Come Up: A Novel, Based on a True Story by Hannah Weyer

Publisher/Date:  Nan A. Talese, July 2013
Genre(s): Young Adult, Coming of Age
Pages:  320
Website:  http://www.hannahweyer.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

“It came to her just before sleep, an idea crystallizing in the dark—how maybe the size of your world ain’t what matter, whether it expand or shrink up or expand again—how maybe it was about finding your place in it. Hurdles to jump. You jump. Erase the lines, draw new ones. Chart a course and follow.”

By the time AnnMarie Walker realizes how to make her way in the world, she’d already been pregnant at 13, starred in a motion picture at 15, and fallen in love with a woman at 18. Her life had been full of accomplishments and setbacks, laughter and tears, kisses and bruises – but along the way, she never stopped dreaming.

It’s the thing I love most about AnnMarie, and it’s also the reason ON THE COME UP: A NOVEL, BASED ON A TRUE STORY is one of the most compelling books I’ve read this year.

A novel based on a true story, On the Come Up by filmmaker Hannah Weyer recounts the coming-of-age of AnnMarie, a teen embedded in a Far Rockaway, Queens housing project after being shuffled around the foster system. She’s back living with her mother, Blessed, who left Trinidad to escape her abusive relationship. Brooklyn-born AnnMarie has typical teenage hopes: making money for back-to-school clothes (Diesel jeans especially), wanting to be noticed by the older guy on the block, better known as Darius Greene. A wannabe music producer, Darius begins to flirt with AnnMarie, and she’s in love. This love manifests itself into sex with no protection, eventually leading to a baby – and of course with foolish promises of being together forever.

At her school for pregnant teens, AnnMarie spies a flyer for a movie audition. Despite being 21 weeks pregnant, she lands a lead role in a film about female friendship, and the set, the cast and the director inspire her to dream beyond Darius’ disappearing act, her mother’s disability and deal with her new life as a mother. The movie encourages her to see a world beyond the Rock as she is swept into Sundance movie premieres and sees herself on the big screen.

After her dizzying turn as an actress, reality plays a bigger role as AnnMarie raises baby Star without much help from Darius, and without a high school diploma or GED. It’s her determination that lands her a job being a home nurse, while time after time taking hard-knocks.

The harshest lessons AnnMarie learns are about love. Without a father figure, AnnMarie sees how proud Darius is to make a baby, but not enough to raise their child. He could dog her, beat her, and still want to call himself a “father,” until AnnMarie recognizes his mistreatment is not worth tolerating just so Star will have the father she never had. Surprisingly, it’s a woman who shows AnnMarie what love is, someone who actually cares about the well-being of her and Star. The kind of love AnnMarie is worthy of.

AnnMarie Walker…engaging, smart, and endearing. Those are the best words I can use to describe her. On the Come Up, I must admit, is not a book for everyone – the omission of quotation marks to indicate who’s speaking makes it hard to follow at times; the vernacular and grittiness of the characters aren’t certain folks cup of tea; and the secondary characters could be stronger. However, On the Come Up is authentic. It’s a credit to Weyer, a screenwriter whose credits include the HBO movie Life Support featuring Queen Latifah, who won a Golden Globe for her role. She’s worked with teens in the media arts for 15 years, and it’s evident. AnnMarie could have been any girl growing up in her neighborhood, but her insightfulness and fortitude is shown even from the first pages, as she’s selling her kool-aid pops and Polaroid pics near the beach, when she takes the A train to an against-odds audition, as she’s falling in love…

She thought, What the fuck you got to be afraid of. You is you. Fuck everybody and they opinion. If you love her, then you love her.
You is you.
Be happy.

Amen, AnnMarie.

Reviewed August 2013

Lion’s Den by Azure

Publisher/Date:  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, May 2012
Genre(s): Romance, Young Adult
Pages:  304
Website:  http://lionsdenbyazure.wordpress.com

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

Chaz is 22, a recent college graduate transplanted to Chicago to start her career as an IT engineer and a life away from her family. What she finds in the Windy City is drama LION’S DEN by Azure. It follows her, though some of it is by her own doing.

At the novel’s onset, a night out leads to meeting and falling for an older woman named Samantha. It’s good for a while, yet Chaz recognizes her options – younger, sexy ones – and settling into a committed relationship becomes a chore.

Not when she has Jazmine. And Lori. And white girl Kelly. Plus a few others.

All Chaz’s bed hopping does a have a root, though. Coming out at 19, she wrestled with living in a Christian values home where her sexuality was a sore spot for her parents, her dad especially, as well self-esteem issues stemming from being treated as the ugly duckling. Therefore, Chaz only felt attractive when around the lesbian community. It’s a high-speed carousel from woman to woman, and you can feel dizzy just reading.

That’s my issue with Lion’s Den. From all the partying, sex and drugs, has Chaz really learned anything? Lord knows she’s smart and aware of her shortcomings, which is great; she’s also young and allowed to make mistakes, but her life choices pained me at times.

Azure is a good storyteller, and Lion’s Den has plenty of action. However, the writing was choppy, there were excessive grammatical errors, and not enough dialogue. However, young adults could relate to Chaz, and hopefully for them, it will be a cautionary tale.

Reviewed December 2012

I Ain’t Yo Bitch by Jabulile Bongiwe Ngwenya

Publisher/Date:  Paper Bag Publishing, Aug. 2009
Genre(s): Coming of Age, Young Adult
Pages:  163

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

If I AIN’T YO BITCH was defined by a current song, it would sound like Drake’s “Crew Love.”

Mainly because Tebogo’s world revolves around being the lone female in her crew, honing her music craft, partying, and appeasing her groupies. Nothing else matters.

Set in Johannesburg, South Africa, Tebogo’s almost bipolar tale is deep, rooted in the loss of her mother and surviving a family betrayal. Living with her father, Tebogo relied on her grandmother’s gentle counsel, friendship and discipline. It is she, unlike her father, who accepted her granddaughter’s sexuality with love and understanding.

“Will it get easier? Sometimes I think there is something wrong with me,” said Tebogo, tears welling.

“Where have you ever heard of such a ridiculous idea?’ laughed her grandmother, opening her arms to embrace Tebogo. She held the child, gently rubbing her back with soft, gnarled hands. “You’re different. You like different things. I don’t understand how that’s wrong? God created a variety of flowers in his garden. Not everyone will like roses, not everyone will smell the daffodils, but someone will fall in love with a daisy or lily.”

Now after her grandmother’s recent passing, Tebogo is a 19-year-old local hip-hop star trying to make it to the big leagues with her boys: Welile, Siphiwe, and cousin Andile. In the group, SWAT, her image is wrapped up in being “Tube,” which means being one the guys.

She thinks she’s one of them, proud that she can do anything the boys can…except she’s a girl…a fact she doesn’t fully realize until it’s too late.

Though the male posturing is a bit much, I Ain’t Yo Bitch is true to its portrayal of a girl’s coming of age in the hip-hop era. The success she and her boys aspire to have is based on American rap culture, which causes you think about the types of messages, often negative, we express to the world in our music.

What’s also interesting is that being surrounded by men, Tebogo can’t discern that what will gain them the success they crave is her femininity, not in a Nicki Minaj way, but adding her experiences will help them stand out and combat the misogyny pervading hip hop. Because truthfully, the real Tebogo is the sweetness she demonstrates with her grandmother. That’s what I wished there was more of.

But then, it wouldn’t be the same story now, would it?

Reviewed June 2012

M+O 4EVR by Tonya Hegamin (Aug. 2010 Pick of the Month)

Publisher/Date:  Houghton Mifflin, Apr. 2008
Genre(s):  Romance, Coming Of Age, Young Adult
Pages:  176
Website:  http://www.tonyacheriehegamin.com

Rating: ★★★★★ 

The dreams we have as children are very powerful, involving fearless feats and aspirations we carry to adulthood, cradled in the hope that the dreams will become reality.

That’s what Opal anticipated when she made the decision to take her best friend, Marianne, away from their small-town life in M+O 4 EVR. The novel from Tonya Marie Hegamin relates an emotional excursion of what happens when wishes are deferred by life’s disappointments.

Best friends, Marianne and Opal’s bond was an unspoken one, full of longing and hurt and not-so-unrequited love. The girls lived in their Pennsylvania town as outcasts, the only few Black faces in the mountainous county. They only had each other, as little girls who held hands on their first day of school, a shield from the world that couldn’t possibly understand them.

Home is where their hearts are. Opal is raised by sassy Gran while her parents travel to provide for her; Marianne lived with her white mother and grandfather, and never knew her black father. Their families were intertwined and nurtured the girls’ closeness. They were privy to the love Opal had for Marianne, though it was never said – even to Marianne herself.

While Marianne has some idea of Opal’s feelings for her, she can’t see past her own pain to reciprocate. Marianne felt lost in her own skin and never wanted to accept her “loser” status assigned based on her light complexion. She strived to be popular, one of the cool kids. And eventually she did attain the crown – becoming the first black homecoming queen – at the expense of leaving her best friend behind. The victory was short-lived when only hours later, a tragedy strikes Marianne, and all the dreams Opal had for them dissipate.

All Opal wanted was have Marianne to herself, in the way she did when they danced through the milkweeds, carved their names into their favorite tree, or pressed lips together under the blackberry bushes. Now all she’s left with is painful memories and theories on how things got to this point. For Opal, her ache came from knowing what they could have been. But with her future in her hands, she soon discovered things happen for a reason.

The sentiments M+O 4 EVR are sweet, raw and heartfelt. Who can’t relate to the story of innocent love and the slings and arrows of growing up? Hegamin writes about loss and love, while also tying in the spirit of a runaway slave to anchor the tale to how much we sacrifice for the love of one person.

However in the end, we and Opal learn taking care of ourselves is what’s most important.

Reviewed August 2010