Three years ago, I reviewed Tiffany D. Jackson’s YA novel Monday’s Not Coming. It’s one of those novels that stays with you long after you’ve read it due to the tragic subject matter and Jackson’s excellent writing. Grown, published in 2020, is another powerful YA novel that tackles disturbing subject matter taken from today’s headlines. This time, Jackson writes a story inspired by R. Kelly and the abuse of young Black girls at the hands of a powerful and famous man. This is not an easy story to read and there is content warning for sexual abuse, child abuse, rape, addiction, and kidnapping. This is a story where children are sexualized and treated as adults while the adults who should have been protecting them stood by or even abetted the abuse. And, as we have seen play out in headlines for the past several years, when the victims come forward, they are blamed, shamed and subjected to further abuse. The author provides contact information for a number of hotlines (domestic violence, sexual violence, MeToo, RAINN) at the end of the book. While this might seem to some to be a topic that young people shouldn’t have to know about or be exposed to, the fact is, we live in a world where terrible, criminal acts are committed upon youths, and Black girls face some of the worst of this.
Jackson’s narration of Grown is similar to Monday’s Not Coming in that she moves back and forth between “Now” and “Then.” The novel opens with 18-year-old Enchanted Jones disoriented and bloodied in the apartment of famous R&B artist Korey Fields. Korey is dead and the police are banging on the door. How did Enchanted get here and did she kill Korey? As Jackson spins this story, we learn that it started when Enchanted, a very talented singer, was 17 and was discovered by Korey Fields at an audition. Enchanted is the oldest of several siblings. Both of her parents work, and Enchanted and her sister Shea are responsible for taking care of the younger kids. The Jones family has worked hard to move to a comfortable, mostly white neighborhood with a good school, but tuition is high and Enchanted’s father is probably going to be going on strike with his union. Korey promises a record, fame and wealth, and Enchanted is thrilled to have the attention of this famous and powerful man, but it’s clear to the reader if not to Enchanted that his attention to her is veering toward the inappropriate. He is manipulating her and grooming her while trying to appear as an upright and trustworthy person to her parents.
As with Monday’s Not Coming, Jackson does a superb job of dealing with genuine psychological trauma in a young Black girl. The reader can see how a bright and talented student like Enchanted could be led astray, how she could be isolated from her parents and friends, and how the abuse she endures could lead to lasting trauma. There are times when the reader is left wondering how trustworthy a narrator Enchanted is due to her PTSD — is what she describes real or a symptom of mental illness? Jackson also shows how a young girl, especially a Black girl, who is a victim can easily be turned into a villain in the eyes of the rest of the world and why victims hesitate to speak up and come forward. Jackson is an excellent writer who is unafraid to tackle deeply troubling and frightening subject matter and who portrays the psychological pain of her characters in a knowledgeable and brutally honest manner. I recommend this book, but those who have experienced abuse should take the content warnings seriously.