Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Star Side Of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson

Barbados is nothing like Brooklyn, New York.  Sisters Dionne and Phaedra, sixteen and ten, are not thrilled when they are sent for the summer to live with their maternal grandmother, Hyacinth.  Yet even they realize that things are not going well for their mother, Avila, who spends her time lying in bed staring into space or disappearing for days. 

The girls slowly start to explore Barbados, and the Bird Hill neighborhood where their family has lived for decades.  Fashion and styles are different here, and Dionne has some cachet as the representative of New York fashion.  The girls must make new friends.  Outsiders here because of growing up elsewhere, they are familiar with outsider status as their mother's difficulties never allowed them to be on the inside in New York either.  Slowly, the girls start to form relationships with the people around them.  They grow to appreciate their thorny grandmother and follow her rules which are much more strict in some ways and incredibly lenient in others.  Hyacinth feels she is too old to try to make the girls hew to some line and she also knows it never worked with their mother, who left Barbados with the girls' father as soon as she was old enough to do so. 

Naomi Jackson has written a lyrical family novel that explores the tentacles that family relationships stake out in our lives.  The reader is transported to Barbados. Poverty is rampant so that the stigma is lessened. A strong religious base makes up the main social network, while medicine is still that of  women who know herbs and superstition and past lore makes up the daily life and baseline knowledge.  There are colorful festivals, sexual escapades and always, the taint of slavery which tore families apart and made the people appreciate family above all else.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction. 

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