Thank you Chantel Acevedo for inviting me to take up the Chocolate Challenge: three books, three reviews, three types of chocolate. And with my sweet tooth…chocolate is the best way to describe some of the delicious books listed below! You can read Chantel’s take on the challenge on her web page ihola and you can also follow her on Twitter @chantelacevedo. Check out her new novel, A Falling Star, published in August 2014 and her novel, Love and Ghost Letters.
Dark chocolate is often described as chocolate that has a somewhat bitter taste to it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good, but it stays with you long after you consume it. That is why the first book I am going to mention is by the late, great Bebe Moore Campbell, 72 Hour Hold. This book has stayed with me since I first read it in 2005. At the time, I was struggling with debilitating depression, and I stumbled upon this book while trying to find something to distract me from my own struggles and maybe even inform me about some of the concerns I had about my own illness. This book accomplished both.
72 Hour Hold is the story of a mother, Keri, who is trying to come to terms with her daughter, Trina’s, struggles with bipolar disorder. Trina went from being a normal vivacious young person, to becoming a violent, disruptive shadow of her former self. This novel shows the true nature of this disease and how it not only affects the person suffering from it, but also the ones who love the sufferer. The reader gets to see Keri fighting her child, as she fights her ex-husband and a flawed system in order to insure Trina gets the help she needs. The reader witnesses Keri’s overwhelming love for her daughter and her willingness to do anything to get her daughter back.
This book is not for the faint of heart. Bebe Moore Campbell doesn’t sugarcoat bipolar disorder and she doesn’t offer any easy solutions, hence the bitter chocolate taste that is left in the reader’s mouth after completing this well-written piece of fiction. It is a tragedy that Ms. Bebe Moore Campbell is no longer with us. Her voice is greatly needed.
Yummy. Milk chocolate is smooth. Milk chocolate reminds me of warm cocoa in front of a fire in the winter time. Any book that I would compare to milk chocolate is one of those books that makes me think, but doesn’t wear out the brain even when the subject matter is tough or difficult. It is a book that makes the reader feel good after completion. Oh, of course you wonder about the characters, but you don’t fret over them. That’s milk chocolate. So, the books I decided to liken to milk chocolate are Sister: Poems, by poet Nickole Brown and Drew: Poems from Blue Mountain by my good friend, poet Robert Gray. Now, don’t get me wrong. There is nothing fluff about either of these two “novels in verse.” Sister is a true tour de force. Nickole writes poems about her complicated relationship with her younger sister through powerful imagery and the storytelling cadence of a Dorothy Allison or an Ann Pancake. In describing her own birth, Nickole writes:
She was half my age now, sweet
sixteen and barely healed
when God smacked half the trees
flat and she curled down
under a mattress
in an empty bathtub
in an empty apartment,
a newborn suckling
the tips of her fingers. (“Footling”)
Nickole’s words are unflinching as she faces the facts of her origin, and later, the more traditional origins of her much younger sister, but Nickole doesn’t drag us into despair or a party wracked with pity, instead, she writes a story of triumph, yes, some heartbreak, but ultimately, her story is one of love and survival. Like milk chocolate, her poetry is strong yet palatable.
Similarly, Robert Gray’s novel in verse, Drew, is not a light-hearted work. Rob says this was the book he avoided writing his entire life. So, reader be warned that he doesn’t shy away from telling the story of his older brother’s death, but there is no overly maudlin verses. In fact, he spends a great deal of time celebrating the life of his brother. Rob writes the following about Drew:
drew on the other hand went out
to meet life in the trenches
he rode it with abandon
drank life dry and headed back for refills
Every time I go back to read my friends book of poetry about his life, I stand in awe even more of his strength and tenacity. His writing style is milk chocolate. He offers smooth verses that tackle difficult topics in a way that is easy for the palate but you don’t forget its taste. It lingers. But in a way that leaves a smile on the face of the consumer.
So many scoff at the notion of white chocolate. It’s an oxymoron. It’s not really chocolate. Well, I beg to differ. White chocolate is decidedly chocolate for me. It does have less of a bite than dark chocolate, but it holds its own in the chocolate family. My interpretation of white chocolate is that it might make you think it’s not chocolate at first, but when you taste it, and savor it, the chocolate flavor rises to the top, yes in a subtle, almost undetectable way, but it is there. So my final selection to discuss in this post is by far the one that makes me smile the most, because it was written by my good friend and honorary “sistah,” Elaine Drennon Little. How best to describe Elaine? Well, I would say this: if William Faulkner and Fannie Flagg had a baby, she would be my friend Elaine. Elaine not only understands southern literature, she is a student of it. She lives it. She breathes it. So it is no surprise when you pick up her novel, A Southern Place, you feel like you’ve stepped into the best of Faulkner and Fannie Flagg, all rolled up into one delicious, deep fried corn fritter that satisfies your taste buds for something savory and sweet.
A Southern Place is the story of Mary Jane Hatcher, aka Mojo. Mojo has had a difficult life growing up in the rural south, but she has also known love. Her mama Delores and her Uncle Calvin Mullinax, are both extremely flawed characters, yet loveable. They have done their best to be a strong force in her life. Nolan, the place where the story is set, reminds the reader of a Faulkneresque type of setting. The rich dialect of the characters immediately transports the reader to a land very much like those created by Fannie Flagg or Joshilyn Jackson. The story begins with Mojo in the hospital, fighting for her life. But then Elaine allows us to see there is more to Mojo than the lifeless body in the bed. Mojo is a woman of substance and grit. This book will make you cry, but more often than not, it will make you laugh out loud and raise a fist in support of the many triumphs that take place in it.
So, that is it for me. I hope you decide to try out some of these yummy, chocolaty treats. Next to share her “chocolate wisdom” is none other than author, Athena Strouble Lark. Athena is the author of Avenue of Palms. This book is about former slave and seamstress, Violet Kingsley, who returns to the modern world on the eve of the election of the first African-American president. Violet struggles to adapt to what she calls the “new world.” In this world she faces the daily challenges of race not too far removed from her early days on the plantation.
So, please check out Athena’s website, www.athenalark.com, in the next few days and find out what delicious, chocolaty delights she will be serving up to us.
Thank you for this challenge, Chantel. I’ve had fun.