There’s probably a reason this book shows up in a lot of early college class, high school reading lists, and the AP exam. It’s a good book to be sure, but it’s kind of a book’s book. The story of a family, the story of a set of experiences, and the story of a voice, but it could so easily be mashed into a mold of “Haitian-American Immigrant Novel” and feel like it covers a lot of ground.
The story itself is about a young girl raised by her Aunt in Haiti sent to live with her mother in New York City, who had Haiti under secretive reasons revealed later in the novel.
The story cuts across a lot of the lines of immigrant-experience literature about finding a new place in a new world, an accounting of how language and accent and race interplay with those experiences, and of course about returning to one’s homeland and what one finds there.
Through all of these experiences is also a clash of cultures as it related to sexuality and sexual violence. There are some uncomfortably violent scenes and revelations in this novel, as well as an account of cyclical violence (which always feels extra upsetting because it disallows for a much-wanted escape).
Over all, the novel is good, concise, strongly written. The voice is clear, but feels young, which it is. I think that this novel feels a lot like the first novel of someone being pitched to the NY writing scene after a successful or series of successful published stories, and I think it might have been.