Black Girl in Paris by Shay Youngblood

Publisher/Date:  Riverhead Books, Jan. 2001
Genre:  Coming of Age
Pages:  238

Rating: ★★★★½ 

When reading Shay Youngblood’s BLACK GIRL IN PARIS, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped in to France’s capital city yourself. You’ll rendezvous with Eden, the protagonist in Youngblood’s adventurous tale, as she travels the city in search of literary greatness and her mentor, James Baldwin.

Eden grew up a poor Southern girl in Birmingham, when in the late 1960s, the racial climate was violent at its worst. The four girls killed in the infamous church bombing was a significant event in Eden’s young life, and she vows to one day live in a city where life is free. In Paris, Eden believes, black people are just people and not a color.

So at age 26, recently graduated and looking for something more, Eden takes off to Paris. She arrives with only $200 but hopes to gain immeasurable riches from life experiences.

During her stay in the City of Lights, Eden befriends many eccentric personalities, including her flamboyant tour guide, Indego, who shows her the real Paris that tourists never see. She also involves herself in romantic tête-à-tête with Ving, a white jazz musician. It is with him that despite how liberated Paris seems, she’s reminded with disdain that she’s still a black woman. Eden also engages in an erotic friendship with a woman, Luce, which teaches her the true meaning of love.

Every adventure, every moment is vividly captured in Eden’s expedition in Paris that you feel as if you’re there, traveling with her through the French boulevards and savoring the foods. Although her outing was the poor man’s experience of Paris–many days she didn’t know where she would lay her head that night– she emerged a much stronger person.

Youngblood’s lyrical prose was superb, and her characters rang true. I wouldn’t take nothing her
Eden’s journey now — except to one day go myself.

Reviewed January 2006

Soul Kiss by Shay Youngblood

Publisher/Date:  Riverhead Books, Feb. 2000
Genre:  Coming of Age
Pages:  207

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Shay Youngblood’s SOUL KISS is one of those books that has a mysterious air about it. You can lose yourself in its beauty, its lyricism and its poetry. Soul Kiss is also a journey through loneliness, pain and ultimately, love.

Mariah Santos grew up as the love of her mother’s life. She gave Mariah everything she needed – plenty of hugs, kisses and words. She would tell her daughter about travels taken, her dreams, and about her father, a man Mariah’s never met.

When Mariah’s mother becomes depressed, she decides to leave her seven-year-old daughter with two aunts in Georgia, promising to return soon. Mariah yearns for her mother, her best friend, to reappear. She doesn’t, and the girl is left in the care of Aunt Merleen and Aunt Faith, two elderly spinsters set in their ways.

With these two women, Mariah lives a quiet life, full of gardening, cooking, and looking after the health of her aunts. Mariah also falls in love with the cello given to her by Faith. It becomes her new best friend, its sound soothing the wounds of losing her mother.

After several years of waiting for her mother, Mariah gives up hope and begins rebelling against her aunts. They send her to Los Angeles live with her father, a virtual stranger. Mariah is sublimely happy being with Matisse, a painter. She’s only known about him through her mother’s vivid tales of how the couple met, but that good feeling soon leaves. Matisse is never home and even more distant when he is. When one of her aunts passes away, Mariah returns home to Georgia – and it finally feels like home.

Youngblood’s Soul Kiss is a story of pain is a masterpiece. It boasts lesbian undertones, as Mariah has strong bonds with female peers and shares her first kiss with a girl. Mariah’s touching journey through her childhood, losing her mother and discovering her father, is drawn perfectly through Youngblood’s words, and you really connect to Mariah’s ache. It grabs hold of your heart, and never lets go till its very end.

Reviewed December 2005