Oof, this is a seriously intense and emotional story, but so compellingly told. Told through the experiences of three women – Grace, LoLo, and Rae – it chronicles the ties of family and motherhood as Black women and the ways intergenerational trauma ripples and impacts people moving forward.
Grace is a teen when her mother is murdered by her boyfriend and her grandmother is taken away for claiming a white woman’s baby was white and not a product of an affair with a Black man on the birth certificate, leading to her being sent to New York to live with her great aunt. Living in Virginia, even though it was Jim Crow and everything was segregated, Grace had always known love and care, but moving in with Aunt Hattie she was suddenly seen as a burden, unworthy, best unseen and unheard. When she meets Dale, he sees her, but due to their difference in social status no one would allow them to be together. After a stolen night together, Grace becomes pregnant and she’s able to hide it through most of the pregnancy, but when her aunt realizes she spews so much ugliness and plans to send Grace away to one of those places where she can quietly give birth and the baby will be given up for adoption. Before she can be sent away, though, she has the baby, knowing what to do from having helped her MawMaw catch babies before. While Grace slept off the stress of birth, Hattie took the baby away, but not before making a petition to the ancestors for Grace that the baby would be protected and loved.
The next part follows LoLo, a woman who wants to be loved and wanted and thinks she’s found the perfect man in Tommy, but he wants a family and LoLo cannot have babies after she had an abortion as a teen and the nurse who did the procedure forcibly sterilized her. She keeps this from Tommy, and convinces him that he’s the reason pregnancy isn’t occurring. Through church, though, they learn of efforts to adopt our babies, and that’s their solution to still have their family, and they adopt TJ and Rae as babies. LoLo loves her family, but she is also sometimes abusive and cruel and disconnected from her children, especially as the weight of being a mother and a wife and a homemaker weighs on her more and more, leaving her feeling shackled to a life that is slowly draining her life.
The final part tells Rae’s story after she gets pregnant with her own daughter and is navigating her full-time job, a husband who quit his job while she was pregnant to pursue his dream of being a full-time writer, and the stress of being a Black mother in America.
There are so many layers and nuances to the story being told. So much of it was heartbreaking as the things these women went through trickled down into how they treated their children. I feel like this is such an impactful story obviously told with heart but also feels unflinching and rough.
It’s hard to say I liked One Blood because it was so rough, but then the ending is so full of love and care. And seeing how time changes someone in how LoLo was a rough mother but when it came to her granddaughter, she had softness to spare. And seeing the relationship between LoLo and Rae change after Rae is grown and a mother herself. I liked the complexity and interpersonal dynamics shown.
I will say that I did struggle some with the time shifts because there’d be recollections and then transition back to present, and I couldn’t always tell where those transitions were taking place. It was an element I enjoyed and the omniscient aspect of the storytelling definitely added to the layers for me.
Overall this a book I would definitely recommend picking up, though do mind content warnings. In the end it is a story of the power and love of family, but also a story of how much it costs to be a Black woman, a Black mother in America, even states like New York that like to pretend that racism never existed there like the South.