Erica Buddington Does it Again: Boroughs Apart — REVISED REVIEW

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Author: Erica Buddington

Length: 143 pages

Publication Date: December 30, 2015

There is an absolute possibility that any fan of Erica Buddington will find Boroughs Apart a slight but welcomed departure from her many earlier works despite the similar ‘signature’ DNA. Buddington writes about love, and she does it “lovely.”

Expressed with immeasurable depth, Buddington captures in Boroughs Apart the emotion of this present era noted for social messiness and peppered with the social media anonymity.  But don’t be mistaken, Buddington’s stories are not solely engorged with relationship fluff, nor are they entangled in the idea that love always ends happily, although, regardless of the outcomes of her many stories, there is always a ‘happy ending,’ even in the face of emotional adversity. This is her beauty.

Buddington’s literary voice is further strengthened in this ambitious 2015 novella. She has written a plethora of enticing stories, but this novella is special. There is an accuracy in her descriptions and a measurable honesty in her feelings and voice. It’s visual. It’s heartfelt. It’s familiar. Boroughs Apart is more experimental than her previous works, vibing on being a virtual time-driven maze of sorts; the well-known unknown. She has presented the theme of unrequited love reincarnated as a present day passion mirroring unrelenting love from a generation past. Yes, it is a complicated story but comfortably and simply well crafted.

For clarity, this is not Of Micah and Men (the last Buddington book I reviewed), but it continues the theme of cool, sweet breezes and summertime passion in the metropolis. It is a departure from many of her creative endeavors, thematically, standing forthrightly and independently. It’s daring and cunning, puzzling and measured. It’s sensual without being blinded by sexuality and comfortable like still photos of a Caribbean sunset.

As stated in a previous commentary, Erica Buddington, as a writer, is relatively transparent which is brilliant. We know where she is going yet we still look forward to sitting ‘shotgun’ during the ride anyway. She points out the subtle beauty of things we may otherwise overlook and makes us pay attention closely enough to commonly unseen objects, which penetrates, and remains, a permanent part of our memory. Knowing where she gets her inspiration isn’t too challenging if you follow her revelations, but what sparks that inspiration is like a pinata; a box of chocolates; a warm bed on a cold night — simply something unexpected and pleasantly welcoming.

The story is principally about Evan, the 30-year-old ‘son of money’ with: “…Sahara sand brown, eyes the color of the sky when everything felt wrong,”  and Ella: brown complexion (I believe), “…shoulder length dreads, bright yellow summer dress, and huge Sankofa earrings,”  and their one degree of separation.   They meet the way Borough strangers do; with an abruptness that is potentially sour but tastes as sweet as New York candy and they ultimately become the unlikely victims of Cupid’s arrow. The story, from this point, moves along quickly.

Ella, a junior curator,  arrives unknowingly at Evan’s home to assess a painting. This meeting segues into the essentials of the story. An earlier meeting between them, although brief, is now in ‘confirmation’. Fate, one can assume, must have brought them together, as the past lords of missed opportunity assured that their moment wouldn’t be lost. Thematically, this is crucial, and Buddington nails it from the start. Oddly, their chance meeting is more revealing than either assumes but eventually Evan and Ella will realize that they are living an unlikely parallel to the lives of people close to home; both homes.

Boroughs Apart is a keenly ambitious work and, ideally unpredictable. Does it spark the imagination of anyone who has ever asked the question: What can happen if a stranger walks into your life who isn’t a stranger at all? Yes, it does in a way that isn’t foreign, forced or ubiquitous. But, as I have come to note in Buddington’s writing,  this interrogative summation proved too simple a prompt for her, and she ventures into the hollows of complicated webs and surreal themes. In Boroughs Apart, she guides us into the worlds of people we’ve seen but never got a chance to know; the people whose social status allowed them to float where others could barely walk. She took us into those homes we’d only admired through shade-less windows, standing and gawking, hypnotically,  at the Renaissance brilliance and tasteful wealth while we’re speechlessly consumed. Buddington shows Harlem’s beauty and the virtues and vulnerabilities of even its wealthier children.

Because any additional commentary will be a spoiler, I will say, as casually and nonchalantly as I possibly can, that the meeting of Ella and Evan has historical significance and unexpected ramifications; the kind of mysterious close encounter between strangers that cannot be calculated but is wholly welcomed.

Boroughs Apart speaks ominously of unrequited destiny, dysfunctional family privilege, chance love, and hope at the possibility to re-love what seemed eternally lost. It is the stories of two families, brought together by fate and coincidence. It is a most vivid example of her beautiful mind and imagination. One thing is for certain, it is ambitious and doesn’t take away from the magic that she has cornered and the talent that she truly possesses. In Buddington, who is also a visual artist,  there is joy in the story and bright colors on the canvas, reflecting the realities that we all know or will one day discover; the unquestionable evidence of a soul’s memorial, and a belief in the worthiness of holding on to hope and embracing faith.

Every Little Step: My Story — A Review

Author: Bobby Brown with Nick Chiles

Length: 341 pages

Released: June 13, 2016

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I’ll admit, I am an incorrigible fan of biographies, but I’ve discovered that biographies are usually one of two things: profound hits or astronomical misses; often filled with so much fluff the story gets lost in loads of overzealous and gregarious bull.  So when a copy of Every Little Step was made available to me, I was excitedly hesitant. I questioned whether I’d even read this book, after all, I knew this story. In fact, the entire world knew this often sordid, perhaps morbid, story. For over a decade Bobby Brown, and ultimately Whitney Houston (as a couple), were headline fodder. Their lives were broadcast as a national or romantic tragedy on the evening news, supermarket tabloids, and sadly, their short-lived reality television show, Being Bobby Brown.

Already steeped in a methodically, if not intentionally, developed controversy, Bobby Brown became infamously iconic through the dismally painted images he willfully projected:  Pop singer, reality star, Whitney Houston’s husband, and father. His nauseating story  played out in the media but never gave us a full image or explanation of the man. We often wondered if he knew himself or if he was simply a chameleon who changed his colorful façade to meet the moment. The jury is still out, even after reading Every Little Step.

Bobby built a reputation as a ‘bad-boy,’ but it limits the shallow depth of a much more complex character. He carried it — that bad boy image — and indeed, after thirty public years of wearing that proverbial and penetrating mask, it became his honest demeanor, bolted in a safe and protected by demons resembling padlocks.  His world revolved around extremism, over indulgence, and the therapeutic attempt to conceal pains that clawed at his being. He states:

To some degree, I understand. That’s how public images work. They slap a label on you, and that’s who you are– the facts be damned. Early on, I cemented my reputation as the “bad boy of R & B.” And it stuck. For the most part, I embraced it–for thirty years. It was fun — when I was young and foolish. But now that label; feels too one-dimensional.

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It was easy to lose himself in sex, drugs, and music, to falter as a father, husband, and musician, to flounder in the land of Oz, just long enough for the world (and himself) to believe it. Being Bobby Brown (both the show and the person) was a platform; a diving board on the deep end of the shark infested pool. He jumped, after Whitney, according to legend, jumped first. Unfortunately, they hadn’t realized, until the currents pulled them further from safety and sanity, that they couldn’t swim.  There wasn’t too much more we wanted or, perhaps, needed to hear. Yes, another biography, I decided, that would become a ‘half read.’

But then the surprise. With Nick Chiles’ word wonderment, Brown’s biography sizzled then unexpectedly exploded. Despite a plethora of predictable and almost surreal events, Every Little Step astonishingly delivered. Readers are taken through the maze of “life according to Bobby Brown” and are presented the opportunity to amble through the jigsaw pieces of his madness.  Revealed during this trek is what had long been hidden and many essential curiosities are answered, yet some of the revelations seem too convenient and occasionally it is questioned whether the book represents a real person or the person he really wanted to be. Indeed there is proof of his antics and some clues that point to real occurrences, but some of the events are forced and seem to be included more for dramatic effect than comprehensive information.

Every Little Step can essentially be summed up as the story of two luxurious ships. One is fantastically pristine with a wooden deck that glistened like polished gold under the Pacific coast sun and the other, of equal magnificence, but moving in circles under a dismal and constant shade of gray, attempting to share a small Roxbury-Newark pond. Which ship represented who is up for individual interpretation. But little can be gleaned from the book which merely highlights the highlights.

Every Little Step was mammoth, larger than the superstar players that controlled their kingdom with mythological fervor. Bobby and Whitney’s roles were almost, perhaps mostly, make-believe; bitter, blind, ignorant, faithful, prophetic, and destructive. The dissolving of the family and the under-appreciation of their height of fame was certain to disappear. It was only on loan; only temporary, and they had no idea. So much, according to the book, was squandered, and the chaos from years of their animated immaturity and abuses cover each page like locusts in a wheat field. There were moments when we didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, cheer, or turn our backs. We did all the above because we had no choice.

We know this story, maybe better than we should. But like most fairytales happier endings exist, and Bobby, seeing the possible end of an unforgiving road, attires himself in battered armor, relinquished his worldly possessions, and sets out to start again. Sadly, and almost as if by a sinister curse, the whole of his former life is inexplicably extinguished, and once again with all the glitter gone, he is back where he started with nothing but material proof of where he’d been.


The Book of Harlan: A Review

Author: Bernice McFadden

Print Length: 354 pages (Kindle); 400 pages (hardcover)

Publisher: Akashic Books; Reprint edition (April 11, 2016)

Publication Date: April 11, 2016

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“The thing worse than rebellion is the thing that causes rebellion.” –Frederick Douglass (printed in The Book of Harlan, page 281, Kindle)

There are rare literary moments when a reader is given a gift so magnificent that it defies adequate definition; when Seshat embraces and guides the writer’s pen and thoughts,  leading them through overgrown,  encumbered historical paths toward a promised land — a place that is quietly pure, emotionally significant, and afforded to few. Fortunate for us, Bernice McFadden has ambled along that path, bathed in the elusive light of wisdom and promise and has stamped down the thorny and entangled frondescence so that the beauty at the end of that path may be embraced. Her hands and mind have indeed been kissed by Seshat.

In The Book of Harlan, Ms. McFadden reveals the holy grail of conflict: a plethora of social, emotional, political, racial, and religious issues, marching into the controversial realm of each without apology. Readers are afforded the fortunate opportunity to commune with a literary presence (Ms. McFadden) endowed with an indescribably beautiful vision.

The myriad of images in The Book of Harlan are vivid, and Ms. McFadden’s love of subtle details burst like a floral symphony after a warm spring rain. The colors of each line, page, and chapter are explosively bright, and in her essential and historical brilliance, Ms. McFadden (previously I stated that she is in the class of Walker, Morrison,  Angelou, and I must add Kincaid), presents the novel with the eye of a gifted cinematographer. The reader is, as a result, graciously endowed with an indescribable, and lasting emotional connection.

At the start of the book, the reader meets Emma Robinson and the Robinson family. Quickly it becomes obvious that the family has some capital means and their confident, almost arrogant, air belies their acknowledgment of their good fortune:

“The Robinson family traveled the city in a shiny black buggy, pulled by not one horse but two horses.” (page 3- Kindle)

Their residence is a house reminiscent of the surreal, quaint country dwellings often planted on several country acres where the loudest sound one hears is the evening’s wind. McFadden states that they [the Robinsons] lived among the Black elite of Macon; “the doctors, lawyers, teachers, and ministers, and not a maid or ditch digger among them.” (pg. 3)

Emma is the youngest and the only girl.  Stereotypic as a teenaged character, she seems to hunger for an existence of greater adventure. This ‘hunger’ she expresses in silent vividness by her admiration of  Lucille, her friend and a jazz / blues singer who is offered a “glamorous” life on the road. Emma’s strict upbringing and denial of these raucous endeavors, causes her to long for it more. Emma meets and confirms a mutual attraction with Sam Elliot, a good-looking, quiet and easy-going carpenter from Kentucky, and her life heads in a different and completely unpredictable direction. Sam is smitten and spends every possible moment in pursuit of Emma. His intentions are honest. His love for Emma is real. But, as would be expected, her family is distrusting.

McFadden takes the story along the path of secretive affection and through the chambers of lost virginity. The Robinson family’s resolve is tested by Emma’s unplanned pregnancy, quick marriage, and decision to move (the first of many) from Macon to DC  after the birth of she and Sam’s child. It is after the birth of Harlan that the novel truly becomes The Book of Harlan.

The short chapters are like staccato movements; breath, awakening, flow, ebb, pure, constant, short and intentional.  Ms. McFadden provides intensity, conflict, resolution, and intrigue; most evidently beginning with the horrific, fiery suicide of Darlene, the sister of Harlan’s best friend. Beautifully, Ms. McFadden uses Darlene (who is characteristically flat) as a powerfully appropriate apparition for the events in Harlan’s life (my thoughts). In my opinion, she played a vital role in the tribulations of Harlan’s life, including throughout his adulthood.

Harlan opts to pursue music and drops out of high school. He joins and performs (poorly) with Lucille’s band and is introduced to marijuana, under the promise from fellow musicians that it will make him play better. And it does…. tremendously. This sort of internal conflict from external influences is Ms. McFadden’s sweet spot; the place where her glow begins to shine even brighter.

Midway through the novel, Harlan befriends Lizard, a Jewish musician whose Blackish demeanor and period-influenced style grants him the ability to evade inquiries about his ethnicity. Their bond is quick, affectionate, and brotherly, and together they form a band.  After finding and flexing their chops in the US, they are offered an opportunity to perform in Paris. War was declared at the time of their travel, and the climate of the book changes, becoming, at that very moment, far greater than the sum of its parts;  reflecting tension and chaos, joy and pain, and a level of sorrow so massive that it remains, even in present reality, immeasurable. We feel, deeply, the details of this tension.  Ms. McFadden ensures that we do; pummels us with a constant barrage of elation and fear; extracting the elements of each until there is nothing recognizable left, like a conductor building a crescendo from the quiet of piano. In the hush of night, after otherwise tense but ordinary affairs, Harlan and Lizard are accosted, bludgeoned,  and abducted by Nazi soldiers. The novel, already very alive, transforms further, raising the reader’s blood pressure and leaving them desperately gasping for air and clutching at the rocketing pain in their chest.

Harlan’s return to America after several years of unnerving events in Europe presents its own symphony of challenges. The many events experienced by Lizard and Harlan after their abduction, introducing to some and confirming for others the historically excluded conflict that occurred between Nazi soldiers and people of African descent, exceeds my ability to give it the justice it greatly deserves. Ms. McFadden packs the novel with so much of her magic that no review or critique could ever effectively capture its depth. With each word and turn of the page the intensity builds, and the transition and tone of the story, from this point to the very end, epitomizes literary exactness. And it is here that I feel more than compelled to discontinue my summary.There are no short cuts. Yes, this is a must read type of novel.

This review/commentary has, for reasons I cannot explain, been the most challenging I have attempted. Perhaps it was the details within the book or my personal admiration for Ms. McFadden’s work that made commenting difficult. Perhaps I made the greatest faux pas, by reading the reviews of others and commenting on their comments.

Maybe it was because of this….

I have never written a review by summarization or through extracting too many details from the story, but for reasons unknown I was entranced by a deep need to do so with this book. Perhaps, to me, Harlan is an exceptionally familiar character,  reminding me subtly of my grandfather, or uncle, or a distant cousin, or the man down the street. Perhaps I see Harlan within myself; searching, finding, losing, and reborn. Maybe Harlan is many, or perhaps he embodies such layers of complexity that he is no one at all.Whoever he is to you is correct. His facets are many. Bernice McFadden and Seshat made him that way. After reading The (AMAZING) Book of Harlan, I am certain, with absolutely no doubt, that you will agree.




Loving Donovan: A Review

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Author: Bernice McFadden

Title: Loving Donovan

Publish Date: January 27, 2003

Pages: 226 (Hardcover)


Terri McMillan writes in the introduction of Bernice McFadden’s novel, Loving Donovan:

“…I was struck by how much Bernice tackles in this seemingly straightforward story of romance. And while she addresses difficult topics such as pedophilia, domestic abuse, homophobia, abortion, depression, suicide, she writes with such finesses that she doesn’t leave the reader in total despair. Saddened at times, yes, but throughout it all, Bernice gives her characters hope.” (page 8)

Bernice McFadden masterfully takes her readers on an embraced journey that blurs the lines of time, space, and sometimes, sanity. The prologue exposes the beginning of an end, yet, as few writers can, remarkably exposes, comfortably, the trials of the human soul with emotional truth absent of punitive venom (although there is plenty of bite) and vulgarity. Each part (calling them chapters minimizes the overall nuance) of Loving Donovan carries readers across waves of family, community and social history. It tells the story of love: good, bad and in between, of longing and wanting and of realities so well-known that the characters will lose their fictitious names and take on the names of people you know.

Loving Donovan is a love story, of sorts, but it is so much more. It is a story of women who love too hard and men who are selectively blind to, or openly unsure of, how this thing called love was supposed to be achieved. It is the story of sexual lust and tension and deviation and uncertainty. It is the story of joy and blues, and joy in blues and sometimes, just blues. It is the story of love:  familial, manipulative, abusive, unrequited, and lost (including the inability to fully love oneself). Perhaps this definition or description does not do the brilliance and emotion of Loving Donovan justice, but McFadden has opened long shut doors and reveals details once hidden.

In the ‘part’ of Loving Donovan, entitled “Age Eight,” McFadden writes:

Millie don’t know why he act the way he do, say the things he say, and don’t seem to know either, ‘cause when she ask him , he just shrugs his shoulders and says, “Baby, I’m sorry. I don’t know why I spent the rent money, stayed out till dawn, had my hand on Viola Sampson’s knee… Millie, baby, I just don’t know.” (Page 21)

This passage is the overarching mantra of most of the men, even when they are silent. They simply do not know why, in any capacity, they do [some of] the things they do. This, from my purview, is not intended to universally denigrate men and is not, in my opinion, an attack on their character, but instead, in its complex simplicity, utters the truth (as aforementioned, McFadden opens doors once hidden) about simply complex relationships, knowledge of self, and misunderstandings of love. Equally, McFadden holds the women in the novel accountable, perhaps not as dramatically, but certainly enough for the reader to ask, “what in the hell were you thinking.” It seems that, for the most part their minds are occupied by thoughts of the men who should love them back, the way they deserve to be loved.

Loving Donovan parallels, essentially, the lives of Campbell and Donovan; their upbringing, their similarities and differences, and how a narrow space between them is indirectly shared  without awareness of each other’s presence. Their eventual bond is seemingly inevitable, coincidental, as they come through mazes of events that shape them into adults. They are the products of storied lives; experiences that build and destroy and leaves scars.  The scars run deep and they, especially Donovan, struggle with the monsters within.  Campbell, however, cautiously but simply looks for the”penguin” and found (was introduced to) Donovan. In the search for happy finishes, the reader will instead find beginnings, middles, and endings that explore and reveal romance in the real world; the uncertainty, difficulty, confusion, frustration,  and agape of an undefinable emotion.

Bernice McFadden magnificently captures the full lives of her characters in Loving Donovan without adding filler. Each ‘part’ is straight forward, clean, and familiar. I was lost in the lives that McFadden so gingerly and intentionally breathed life into. In the end, Donovan became a ghost, disappearing into the realm of eternal goodbyes and Campbell fell into the bottomless well of emotional despair until the bottom rose to meet her (she cuts her hair — a symbol of change and surrender). She was lifted slowly from that abyss, and although granted a new happiness, is still secretly lured to the edge, from which she’d carefully glance down into its darkness, hoping that Donovan returned to resume their story.

McFadden writes:

The love she had for him never changed, never shifted or waned, just lodged inside her, wrapped around her heart.

She still looks for him behind the smoke-glass windows of Benzes…

Her heart still hopes when the phone rings…

And finally…

Campbell has a better understanding of love and the paths God and the universe have laid out for her, and it allows her to muse that perhaps she and Donovan will meet again in another life, on another plane…

…she as the sand, him as the sea…

…him as the moon, she as the stars…

…penguins… (pages 255-256)

This was a beautiful journey, one that is unforgettable, familiar and awakening. In the literary styles of Angelou, Walker, Morrison, and Brooks (just to name a few), McFadden is a voice that resonates and becomes fodder for evening conversations. Although, thematically, love is the subject, the truest love is that which the reader will unquestionably feel for McFadden as a writer and her novels, as national treasures.

BERNICE L. McFADDEN is the author of nine critically acclaimed novels including Sugar, Loving Donovan, Nowhere Is a Place, The Warmest December, Gathering of Waters (a New York Times Editors’ Choice and one of the 100 Notable Books of 2012), and Glorious, which was featured in O, The Oprah Magazine and was a finalist for the NAACP Image Award. She is a three-time Hurston/Wright Legacy Award finalist, as well as the recipient of three awards from the BCALA. McFadden lives in Brooklyn, New York. The Book of Harlan is her latest novel.(from Amazon)



Of Micah and Men: A Review

Author: Erica RivaFlowz Buddington

Pages: 156 (paperback); 95 (Kindle)

Copyright: 2015

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Recently,  I discovered a writer (blogger) with a new, honest, and familiar voice. After reading and re-reading several lines of her brilliantly woven words, I became intrigued.

Who is this sister? 

I ventured further into her literary world and quickly learned that she was more than a blogger, she was special: a wunderkind, a wordsmith with  virtually undefinable gifts; able to make ideas dance and rivers flow. Each penned narrative was soporific, each phase bathed in glorious illumination, touching,  without apology, on the pulse,  of heart and soul, of passion and pain. This scribe’s words were portraits of emotion. They were sketches of brilliance and aesthetics, not for the purpose of beauty,  although she could make Mona Lisa smile, but for the purpose of clarity. She brought a fresh approach to a familiar and timeless subject; the heart and soul of a woman. She is Erica Buddington —  Rivaflowz, for those who know.

When this journey began  I smiled, I chuckled, I was transported. Buddington’s unconventional literary approach, although not new, was inexplicably genius; Sex in the City meets Love Jones.  Her passages soared, banging out rhythms with emotion and the tropical coolness of Alize. Each word was deliberately and lyrically written, perfectly executed and perfectly blended; both keen and universal. She wrote with the executive styling of someone who had lived a thousand lives and believed a million dreams. Buddington’s wordplay (or play-on-words),  images, visions, intentions, and emotions are alluring, profoundly clear, empowering, and rock solid. You’re apt to forget she’s under thirty.Yeah, she’s really that good.

It seems only àpropos that we read her foundation, the groundwork (her blogs) to better understand her many thoughts. Buddington provided a perfect blueprint, an ideal segue into the visions that she later turned into a book of essays.With each passage, she chaperoned her audience through a poetic maze, boldly marching, traipsing even, with deliberate, but timid, steps along the complex path of relationships, self-love and the intoxicating trickery of romance.The reader, blinded by the array of colors and patterns, ends up in the garden of  Love. Relationships. Love. Heartbreak. Love.Love. Love.

Buddington’s work is millennial; youthful, fresh, focused and seriously free. She has tapped into the core of the unknown known and exposed a diagram of life so simple it’s unthinkable. It is a Basquiat painting; a Langston Hughes poem; a self-portrait of Frida Kahlo.  She has unique insight into the ‘ouch’ and ‘ahh’ moments of early 21st century relationships.  This is the subject, object, and prospect of her book of essays, Of Micah and Men: Collection of Essays on Dating. What Buddington has somehow manages to do is offer a  smoothly rough ride on the ‘D’train to the last possible stop.  As I poured through the episodes of Of Micah and Men I longed for delicacies only available when time and emotional fortitude collide; that irresistibly sweetest taboo.

Buddington opens her book with the punch of a confessional… forgive me Father…. (my words)

She writes,

I’m single.

I’m not apologizing for it. I’m not going to chase my aspirations and pretend that it doesn’t get lonely sometimes, and I’m certainly not going to sit still…. Women are so conditioned to wait for love, turn a blind eye, or expect it to come tapping them on the shoulder. Sometimes it doesn’t happen like that. Sometimes love is sitting right next to you and has no clue that it’s wanted or needed until you say so. 

Although her book is heterogeneous, it is interesting to read it as a man. Yes, we are considered by some to be: selective in our emotional outpouring, temperamental in our approach, sometimes coarse and unclear in the depth of our love; complicated. But, even when reserved, our ‘way’ of loving is often painfully sincere, despite being exceptionally foreign and sprinkled with misgivings.

Buddington doesn’t point out nor emphasize all of those misgivings, necessarily, but she does offer correctly and alarmingly, the truth; man truth, woman truth, dating truth. She provides the reader with the soul draining void of a spark-less relationship and the perpetual optimism that the sun will shine tomorrow. She is not hopeless. She is energy. We can identify with this. It is honest and pure. We have traveled that road, perhaps more than we’d care to admit. It is universal TRUTH!

I forced myself to love him. I’m finally admitting that, in this paragraph. I’m admitting it and then I am letting it go. We met in a writing group and he spoke often, about looking for love. I was looking for the same thing and since he fit the blueprint, the type of guy that my parents would approve of, I latched to the idea of “us”, instantly. 

With the ending of her relationship with [her boyfriend]  Ryan, and the need to escape the emotional waterfall, Erica visits with a friend away from Brooklyn. As is often the curious case with people who are newly single, another suitor is usually nigh, attracted, perhaps, by the amount of pheromones unintentionally released. If you don’t believe my theory, begin to pay attention.

Enters Micah.

Erica describes their meeting as most first meetings (and last meetings) go… slow and dry. But the stimulation of meeting one another was enough to keep thoughts of Erica in his head and enough for Erica to offer her contact details. Micah makes his move (several moves) according to Erica, the following day.


Daily messages, flowers, offers, endless talks about nothing … the stuff that produces daydreams and brain fog, and mysterious, random smiles.

Through the progression of the book what is clear, especially through the actions of Micah, the principal player in her collection, is that he loves Erica and Erica, one can safely assume, loves him, but the love is made complicated after the admission that he and a former girlfriend (I think she was a girlfriend) are having a baby. REAL TALK!

Credit to Micah for not concealing the truth.

…even when reserved, our ‘way’ of loving is often painfully sincere, despite being exceptionally foreign and sprinkled with misgivings.

A multitude of relatable events happen in the book, but nothing that is extraordinary, cutthroat, or exaggerated. It is her casualness that makes you feel that you’re listening to the therapeutic conversations of a good friend. It is this that makes Buddington, as a person, feel so familiar.  The dramatic points are  experiences we know.  The readers can openly, quietly, or collectively relate and admit, without embarrassment, “That is me, too.” I am not completely certain if Buddington was reaching for such a level of Venus / Mars philosophy when putting her book together, but the ability to relate to the trials and pains of her readership earns her a PhD in relationship therapy.

Of Micah and Men makes the hidden side of us yearn, want to win, want to love insanely and deeply. Buddington captured the deeper essence of these feelings. She exposed herself admirably,  a transparency that okays human mistakes and this is her draw.

To read this book is to look into the mirror and see the reflection of your family, friend, or self. Yes, it is Sex in the City meets Love Jones. Good, good stuff. This, as well as her other books (and her blog) are must reads,  must shares, and worthy of long, overdue, therapeutic discussions.


The Autobiography of an Ex-colored Man: A Review

Author: James Weldon Johnson

Length: 176 pagesEX COLORED MAN

Written: 1912 (Anonymously)

James Weldon Johnson’s,  An Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, is a complex and seething tale which, by its very existence, is a testament to Johnson’s  genius. Written in an autobiographical format, Johnson, who was 31 years of age at the time that this book was composed,  formulated and executed a memoir structure, which could virtually convince the reader that the story was about him.

In 176 pages, the reader journeys through the life of an extremely fair complected black man at the turn of the century. With actions that are both startling and woeful, Johnson’s character, who is nameless, lives his early life in the fog of believing he is white, even willfully participating in the antagonizing of Black students until a startling reality disrupts his unchallenged belief and turns his world a muted shade of brown. He states:

“One day near the end of my second term at the school the principal came to our room and, after talking to the teacher, for some reason said: ‘”I wish all of the white scholars to stand for a moment.”‘ I rose with the others. The teacher looked at me and, calling my name, said:'”You sit down for the present, and rise with the others.'” I did not quite understand her, and questioned: ‘” Ma’m?'” She repeated, with a softer tone in her voice:'”You sit down now, and rise with the others.'” I sat down dazed. I saw and heard nothing. When the others were asked to rise, I did not know it. When school was dismissed, I went out in a stupor. A few of the white boys jeered me saying:'”Oh, you’re a nigger too. ‘” I heard some black children say:”‘We knew he was colored.'”

This incident converted his view of himself, his community and ultimately, his country. Confirmation from his mother of his color, his race, his identity, although shocking, catapulted him into the solace and security of music and literature. And here, the story becomes a mission of acceptance, denial, and searching.

“I felt leap within me pride that I was colored, and I began to form wild dreams of bringing glory and honor to the Negro race.”

The question was: How was he to now face an America that saw him differently than he saw himself? And perhaps more profound is: How did he see himself? The narrator ventured into the unfamiliar; journeys from cigar making facilities to the historical and social beauty of France.  To some, his Black skin was invisible and to others, it appeared to beam like the soleil jaune in the darkest of darkness. This was essentially his duality. His unique ability to step into the vulgarities and secrets of both worlds. His interaction with Black men, as he journeyed across the country revealed certainties that were seemingly unknown to  whites, but, reality for the African-American, even today, was the understanding of whites that would never be reciprocated.

“Decreasing their number by shooting and burning them off will not be successful; for these men are truly desperate, and thoughts of death, however terrible, have little effect in deterring them from acts the result of hatred or degeneracy. This class of blacks hate everything covered by a white skin, and in return, they are loathed by the whites. The whites regard them just about as a man would a vicious mule, a thing to be worked, driven, and beaten, and killed for kicking.” (pg. 38)

The color of his skin, or perhaps lack of,  allowed him into the ‘talking rooms’ of that philosophy, that belief, that pitiful baseless theory. It was a camouflage that permitted him to witness the unhampered truth and, even in awkward interactions, a redefining of himself. Indeed, his earlier skin color revelation manifested into a quest to exceed the expectations of a Black man during that era, but more importantly, and maybe  I am excavating in uncharted territory here,  the experiences of the narrator seem to be about finding himself.  After several jaunts through America and Europe,  a musical ‘love affair’ with a few women (I can’t recall any of African descent), and his decision to make a life for himself in the United States as a ‘Negro’ composer, his reality is questioned and it is highly suggested that he take a less honest path to securing his success as a composer.

“My boy, you are by blood, by appearance, by education, and by tastes a white man. Now, why do you want to throw your life away amidst the poverty and ignorance, in the hopeless struggle, of the black people of the United States? Then look at the terrible handicap you are placing yourself by going home and working as a  Negro composer; you can never be able to get the hearing for your work which it might deserve. I doubt that even a white musician of recognized ability could succeed by working on the theory that American music should be based on Negro themes. “

It was easy to become engrossed by this story, to become sympathetic and, sometimes, apathetic regarding this plight; to forget that that which could be deemed a blessing could internally bring about a most catastrophic struggle. The narrator grapples with that struggle, fights himself,  battles his destiny.  As is the case of human kind, the greatest desire is to end that struggle at victory’s door. Like all things measurable, victory is both synonymous with and of equal stature as love,  and this is what our narrator finds, deeply. For the first time, after total acceptance as a white man, he admits to the woman who has firmly captured his heart that he is Black. The shock of this news alienates them, and his emotional tribulation takes hold. But hope indeed springs eternal, and it is proven that love does have power  far greater than the color of one’s skin. To keep this love, the narrator makes a decision. He has lived, fully, in two very similarly different worlds and has tasted the nectar of uncommon fruit, but only one fulfilled the sweetness he sought. He chooses to live in the world where a sweet love dwells.

“I can imagine no more dissatisfied human being than an educated, cultured, and refined colored man in the United States.” (pg. 119)

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man is indeed a masterful, uniquely engrossing work of fiction. This is one book that must be added to one’s literary repertoire, or at least, to the reader’s short list. Johnson successfully channels the way one would look at others and, most profoundly,  how deep the veins of our own secrets may possible run.
Continue reading “The Autobiography of an Ex-colored Man: A Review”

Fifty Shades… (left me Blue)… A Review, Finally

Title: Fifty Shades of Grey

Author: E.L. James

530 pages (Length varies)


E. L. James exploded on the literary landscape with the juggernaut-like energy of R. K. Rowling, taking from her, perhaps, the subtlest of methods and Potterish zeal to make a best seller. Her book, the uber-marketed Fifty Shades of Grey, caused middle aged women to swoon, and young girls to want and dream, in ways not witnessed in decades. Millions bought and millions more read with very mixed critiques. Against my normal literary interests and as my curiosity grew, I purchased the book and began reading it with as clear a mind as possible, putting aside the clandestine appropriations that are often a standard accompaniment for a book of this magnitude.

The story, essentially,  tells of the animatedly bland tryst between Ana, an unassuming WSU college senior whose personality, actions, and common sense are about as academic as the weather in Washington State,  and Christian Grey, the eccentric, yet odd, twenty-seven-year-old billionaire with a penchant for bully-‘esque’ endeavors and the ‘finer’ things in life. The reader, with the anticipation of getting to the parts of the novel where hearts throb and rivers flow, is bombarded with pages of simplicity of such scale that the urge to close the book is absolute and, on a page-by-page occasion, very likely. But the story is equally alluring; a hypnotic fable that keeps the reader, against their better moral judgment, reading every line, hungrily, for it is here that disappointment meets  nausea. Filled with innuendos, symbolism, and a plethora of literary antics, James employs  and exploits complex fundamentals. The monologue is one dimensional. There is very little action which moves the story, with the exception of sudden and awkward moments that, I suppose, were added to emphasize the massiveness of Christian and Ana’s lustful spontaneity.

The story lacks voice and becomes stagnant, predictable sorority fodder, the sort discussed over bottles of cheap vodka and Utz party mix, dreamy at best, and perfect for the Saturday night lonely hearts.

The story begins when Kate, Ana’s roommate and best friend, asks Ana if she could conduct the scheduled interview with elusive wunderkind, Christian Grey in her stead because she is too ill to do so. Ana seems reluctant but her loyalty to Kate is magnificent and she agrees. Kate, an aggressive budding journalist who would probably have fit the antics and sadomasochistic lifestyle of Grey is the Yin to Ana’s Yang. But James seemed to have thought that route too easy and I would have to agree. The recipient of Grey’s charms had to be a girl who projected purity and little confidence. And here, for the reader,  is the rub. James begins a most confusing odyssey at this point, painting Ana as an innocent, absent of carnal awareness and sins of the flesh. But, at least, I assume, and James projects, the urging of a woman are far greater than her lack of knowledge, and Ana’s chamber-kept urges are atomic.

Ana, upon entering Grey Enterprises and meeting its young, confident CEO, is immediately taken aback by the Adonis beauty of Christian, and wooed by his exceptionally mature demeanor. Although  not revealed  at this early stage, it soon becomes evident that Christian sees in Ana… potential, maybe more. Ana, in unusual ways, and perhaps due to Christian’s ‘bestial’ (i.e., aggressive) softness, seems to gather herself confidently, although not convincingly, in unexplained spurts, after all, her last name is Steele, and soon the name has more meaning than initially obvious, as does the name and color Grey (gray), which one could argue indicates an in-between; not black, not white, just there… bland… undefinable.

And then there is sex… lots of it. From lost virginity to domination, the scenes (which I believe is the reason everyone wanted to read the book) was a Porsche on steroids. The exploits all happened so rapidly that it…well… became almost juvenile. The sub-dom”contract” written by Grey detailing the “partnership” was too long, too demanding, too unrealistic, and simply too detailed. This is where the story falls completely apart and there is the question: Who is really the submissive? as Ana disagrees to the contact’s tenets without much reaction. I could only ask: “How can you sign up to play the game and change the rules to suit your needs?” She does…often.

The writing is simple. The story line is simpler. This is not my summation; this is all E.L. James. Perhaps it reveals what she (James) was aiming for, and the story rarely diverts from that path, although there are several moments when the reader  is apt to scream profanities at the top of their lungs at the extraordinarily fantastic situations Ana and Christian find themselves in, or Ana’s sudden behavioral change; a change that leaves one scratching their chin and turning back to prior chapters looking for when the metamorphoses occurred.

Fifty Shades of Grey left me with many questions and provided few answers. I was disappointed, not with the efforts of James, but with the vastness of my expectations. Despite its great story potential, Fifty is a solid two and a half star tale that teetered, sometimes unsteadily, on the cusp of being memorable.

Review of Upstate: A Novel

Upstate: A Novel

262 pages

Author: Kalisha Buckhanon


There are a few novels that are lyrical, filled with an indescribable level of musical magic that leaves the reader, and ultimately, the listener, wanting more. It has the ability to feed that lingering, unfulfilled, and longing hunger; a hunger unwilling to accept just ‘any’ flavor. I found myself searching for that flavor, searching for that music, looking for a specific orchestral novel created by the distant rhythm of bass guitars, and crashing cymbals. I wanted a symphony of simplistically complex narrative, complicated love and a universal story line that would linger in my psyche until I became so absorbed that I couldn’t tell where I ended and it began. I wanted a butterfly in Harlem.

Upstate, the debut novel by Kalisha Buckhanon, was a completely accidental find; a novel that literally fell from the shelf and into my lap. Perhaps this magical phenomenon was the first sign that I should give the book a sincere look.I purchased Upstate, thinking that it was, quite likely, another novel calling attention to the deleterious plight of African-American youth, filled with drugs, sex, poverty, and death, despite the glaring fact that the description read differently. I relegated this book to another addition to my collection of “come down” novels– the ones I secretly stash in my backpack or in the archives of my Kindle– to read as cerebral relief from more complex works. Then I read Upstate’s first line:

Dear Natasha,

Baby, the first thing I need to know from you is do you believe I killed my father?

There it was. A single profoundly engaging line. The lure that snagged me, and I was dangling from Buckhanon’s hook, in Buckhanon’s pond; ravenous, famished, longing to be fed more and more. The sky opened. UPSTATE! That one line was my butterfly. What I discovered (or, perhaps Kalisha Buckhanon uncovered) was magnificence in a literary format I had not experienced since the reading of Slave Narratives compiled from letters and notes by people in captivity. There was an element of captivity in this novel, an arresting premise that had the capacity to make the reader laugh, and cheer, and cry—simultaneously. Amazing was how a series of letters, between two people, could create a complete novel, a bounty of revelation full of magic and emotion. Upstate, this complex epistolary novel, exploded my senses. Little did I initially know its impact. How quickly I learned.

The story covers the embattled, challenging, complicated relationship of Antonio and Natasha, and the roller-coaster ride that is their very young (seventeen and sixteen  years old, respectively) and profoundly immature lives. Antonio is serving ten years in prison for the murder of his father, a roguish and chronically abusive man. During his bid, aside from periodic visits, Antonio and Natasha’s base of communication is letters written feverishly and engorged with dreams that have little to no possibility of ever coming to fruition …ever. The emotion in each letter rises and falls, unique in that the dialogue isn’t really dialogue but carefully crafted monologues, a ‘call and response’ type endeavor that works so perfectly that it makes the reader more voyeur than reader. BRILLIANT MS. BUCKHANON!!!

There is love between Natasha and Antonio and it is real, although straddling the rail of becoming unrequited and stagnant, and, as the story further develops, the responsibilities that come with this stagnantly real love prove to be far more difficult than it was capable of enduring. In prison, Antonio becomes a part of the culture, enveloped by the fantasy-filled idea of a better world and a stronger resolve when he got out while Natasha finds the hole in the proverbial fence of oppression and has ventured through it into a world bigger than both of their imaginations. The question thus becomes, who was the actual prisoner? And the answer is a resounding, both of them.

Kalisha Buckhanon covers the spectrum of life’s love mystery wonderfully, unfolding and revealing each layer just enough to show that there was an actual effect inside, from teenage adoration to the possibility and reality of freedom after several years in prison, to a more mature love that, although incomplete, never quieted. She lets the reader know that there are happy endings of sorts, that there is hope in what initially appeared hopeless, and avoided the common, stereotypical sorrowful physical demise of her characters. Buckhanon created, through each of their letters, another step toward resolve and often left us, the reader, wondering if the characters read and absorbed them in the same vain that we did. The answer to that is: sometimes.

In the end, Natasha pens an exclamatory rant, and Antonio follows up with a letter that compliments with a more sincere finality to their extinguishing relationship. This is as close as they ever get to actual closure, and this, the reader realizes, is the beauty of Buckhanon’s work; that we are absorbed by the characters, incensed by their ridiculously overwhelming need for validation and comfort, and hopeful that their worlds would not meet a catastrophic end. Equally, we are left with more questions; the last being… “Is this the real end?”

There are novels that are lyrical, filled with an indescribable level of musical wonder that leaves the reader, the listener, wanting more. It feeds that lingering, unfulfilled, longing hunger; a hunger unwilling to accept just ‘any’ flavor. When I read the final lines, it was clear; Upstate is a lyrical love story, orchestral in its telling and Kalisha Buckhanon, who since the publishing of this novel has released a second, Conception, and has a third on the way, has undeniably proven to be a most gifted and well-versed conductor. A beautiful read, as rare as a butterfly in Harlem.

Power Forward: A Review



Title: Power Forward
225 pages
Publication Date: February 3, 2015

By Reggie Love


Political memoirs are not at the top of my literary must-read list, nor are they even at the bottom. The fact is, they aren’t on the list at all. I’ve read several (a couple were memorable) and without fail, most left me emotionally arid, dry to my core, bored, filled with questions and weary from their tireless, one-dimensional commentary. I was often rendered, for reasons still difficult to explain, overcome with the feeling that I had fallen, somehow, beneath the ‘caste’ radar of privilege and intellectual equality when compared to the book’s cartoonish characters, settings, and plot. More often than not, I found myself pouring over amber pages occupied by ivy league tales, the family business, elaborate trips, family trusts, Martha’s Vineyard or some impressively surreal sexual tryst at a Gregorian “compound” in eastern Europe. These memories, while expressive, never reflected the life with which I am familiar, so the highly beloved memoir is usually not a viable contender on the list of my next great read.

Surprisingly, I found, purely through curiosity, an inspiring book based on political reflection that had me more entertained than I would have ever imagined. What separated this memoir from most, aside from its subject matter and immediate personal connection, was the fact that it was written by a true insider; what was referred to as “a body man,” a personal assistant. Not surprisingly, it was a memoir based on the ever mesmerizing and incomparably tantalizing Obama presidency. The book, Power Forward, was written, respectfully (almost ad nauseum), by President Obama’s “body man,” Reggie Love.

Because I think everyone should read this book, whether a fan or opponent of President Obama, I will try to avoid giving too many spoilers, but… will say this…

Love has written a political “adoration” story, uniquely allowing glimpses into the day (more like a year or two) of the life of a budding, and eventually, the American president, before and after he took office. Impressively, he was able to effectively capture the feelings, magic and mayhem of campaigning [upon these American trais] as an African American with no initial national clout and then, almost magically, granted the very high and likely possibility of being victorious and becoming a historical “first”.

Love writes with a gentle pen. Certainly he could have exposed some sort of muck that makes a writer’s career, especially considering the position he was in, but opted to show that his respect superseded that quest for notoriety and temporary exposure. The stories are relatively light and kind, bonding and special, reminiscent more of big brother / little brother or father and son than employer/employee. Undoubtedly, Love knew then, although he opted, it seems, to act aloof throughout the book, that he was a pretty damn lucky guy.

For most of the memoir, Love quietly references possible careers in basketball, football or corporate America (going as far as try-outs and practices), but seems to put his position as “body man” to a politician–a political icon– on the cusp of significant governmental tremble, in the same category as boy scout or “oops” man. He spends an exorbitant amount of time informing the reader of his numerous mistakes and graceless blunders, mistakes that, for as minor as they seemed, sometimes stole away the fact that he had attended Duke, has hard earned stock, and pretty sharp wits. There are several moments in the book when Love gives the impression that working as the young senator’s assistant was a: “I had no other choices,” type gig, rather than, as the writing of the book proves, a stepping stone or gateway to a dream come true.

There are more depth and anecdotal moments as the memoir progresses, but not in the same vain as a great novel or season writer’s non-fiction. The reader is exposed to and gets swallowed up in fraternity type interactions, a constant thrill of competitiveness, and several doses of ‘bro-therapy’, giving the reassurance that Obama is real in his naturalness, but carries himself in constant awareness of his purpose. Jokes and playful manly interactions are sincere, but it is clear, according to Love’s commentary, that everyone knew Obama was the Alpha. There is so much remaining to comment upon, but the methods used in the writing of this book does not permit for much to be said without treading upon that forbidden zone of spoiling the story further.

The book is episodic, almost oppressive in its choppy approach. But it is, as aforementioned, entertaining and a relaxed read. Truthfully, it would make a decent documentary if ever produced for television; more HBO than VH1.

Despite its valleys, as it does have some magnificent peaks, Power Forward is a worthy read and a personal journey which helps one to understand why (“firsts” aside) the world loves this president.

Star Side of Bird Hill: A Review


“Hyacinth said that it was a gift to greet a new day, and that you needed to meet it in a way that showed how grateful you were to have your life spared.

This sentence, on page 29 of Naomi Jackson’s 298 page beautiful and engaging novel, Star Side of Bird Hill, essentially sums up the entire story. It brings to light a cacophony of seasoned wisdom and lessons for the youth who believe they are invincible. Set in St. John, Barbados a town on the east side of the island full of spirit — not just from the noted church that quietly but profoundly becomes a symbolic character (in my opinion), but from the inhabitants and the environment itself– and subset in Brooklyn, New York, a massive borough redefined by emotional overload and a chaotically profound Renaissance,  the story follows the lives of two girls, sisters, Dionne and Phaedra and their transition between two worlds that hold the distinct similarity of having family in both and Hyacinth, their feisty conscientious grandmother .

Star Side of Bird Hill burst through my senses from the opening lines like a blazing sun on the clear Caribbean Sea, glistening beautifully blue; alluring, passionate and inviting. I completed the reading of Star Side…, cruising toward the Bahamas enveloped by tropical breezes and the pungently sweet smell of the Atlantic Ocean. Periodically, I’d close my eyes and lose myself in Hyacinth’s rose garden, or among the tombstones, or on dirt roads that led to sandy beachfronts. Through effortless story telling Naomi takes her readers on that journey, that smooth yet complex cruise, through thunderous storms and sweltering heat, docking in paradise.

The star of the novel, the one character that demonstrates the greatest growth and development is difficult to exact, but Phaedra, who at ten, is taken through an emotional whirlwind of familial dynamics, presents an omnipotence that Jackson eases in like air. Led by the antics of her older sister, Dionne, Phaedra is endowed with the benefit of seeing the tale of two cities through three sets of generational eyes. Late night antics, fitting into an unfamiliar environment, religious influences and community camaraderie shape her into a child who never truly loses her innocence, but rapidly matures and opts to become a member of the new world in which she finds herself. For this we adore her, sometimes forgetting that she is still very young. Jackson gently but deliberately weaves a story that encapsulates the reader in the traditions of the “old country” and meshes it with the “new” generation from the states. She brings into the fold the challenges of mental illness and that subject remains subtle but constant, effectively helping to shape the understanding of personalities and events.

The novel covers the relationship of three female family members, a grandmother and her two grand-daughters, during what was initially a summer visit (this after Avril’s demons go awry). With masterful and vivid descriptions, Jackson allows us into the daily and sometimes challenging lives of the women; allows us to venture through that forbidden door, and plant ourselves in a quiet corner. The reader is provided a journey into the complex simplicity of love, honor, tradition, and growth. The matriarch, Hyacinth (grandmother), a woman steeped in Bajan traditions yet keen to the understanding of the present shows he reader the depth of her strength and conviction to her church. She loves her granddaughters with the same love she has for her daughter, their mother.  Her life has been filled with matters that made her strong, but, from my perspective, weakened enough of her resolve to soften her. The girls visit was a renewal, a breath of air, and the progressive tone of the story reflects that renaissance. The reader thus imbibes the lives of all of these characters.

Jackson produces an amazing tale filled with a kaleidoscope of emotion and depth with one exception, the introduction of Errol, the father of Dionne and Phaedra. Errol is plastic, pathetic, predictable, conniving, and, as a character, surprisingly one dimensional. Arriving with his girlfriend to retrieve the girls, his methods and remarks are un-fatherly.  Errol is the portrait of a snake, a tempter, a charmer, a sly beast adorning sleekly howling attire. His past isn’t hidden, not completely, which makes him even more sinister than, and just as transparent as, the beaches surrounding Barbados. Naomi Jackson made Errol colorful, but he was a backdrop, an added feature to secure the looming apparition of mental illness. With alacrity, his character meets his end in a way that many may see as an easy way out, but suitable for his nature.

There is so much lurking, a virtual cacophony of coyly placed events, like an omnipotent eye, throughout Star Side…, from remarks about darkening skin (via direct sun exposure) and trials of life, to drunkenness on darkened roads and carefully described sexual and spiritual exploration (yes, I saw these as one in the same).

I’ve read the book twice, each time getting a tall glass more than the previous read. I’ve scanned for quotes, lost myself in the mystery of grave sites, dark nights, teen spirit, and innuendos. The book was endless, even as I read these last few lines from Phaedra:

“What she wanted more than anything was to believe what Avril had taught her, was true, that she could save herself if she needed to.”

Simply put: Full Circle.

Thank you, Naomi Jackson, for a voyage that left me satiated and eager for the next beautiful jaunt!