The Darkest Child by Delores Phillips
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
*I received a copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*
A brutally honest work of fiction that doesn’t revel in the sadness or horror it reveals about race, family, poverty and the cycles that trap people despite their best intentions.
Of the three books I had queued up to read, it was Delores Philips’ The Darkest Child that drew me in and held me tight. Philips doesn’t waste any words trying to seduce you into her story, she simply places you into the thick of it. Tangy Mae is a painfully compelling character who, at every turn, has every possible reason to fail her potential surrounded as she is by people who only see her as an extension for their needs. She’s conflicted and a study in contradictions but her eyes and voice provide the clearest window through which to view a story that is grounded in a historical moment (desegregation of schools) but centers squarely on the people living in the era rather than on the textbook facts.
Though there are villainous white characters who lurk at the periphery, the book centers on Tangy Mae’s family, friends and a variety of people who regularly factor into their lives. Although the issue of race is at the forefront, we experience it as it exists in this time and place where although whites and blacks inhabit the same spaces they are periphery to one another’s lives. It is through Rozelle/Rosie that we experience white and black integrated in one form. Her sadness and madness terrorizes her family even as Tangy Mae gives us glimpses into her capacity to love and how it is in her seeming gestures of kindness that she is most terrifying.
Beyond race Delores delves deeply into the troubling relationships within family. Her exploration of the relationships between mothers and daughters is very honest, troubling but extremely important. Women are at the forefront of the book in a way that doesn’t attempt a glossy finish but instead explores what it means to feel weak, to endure, to be strong, to have power and to find a way through personal struggles without being sure that it will all ever be okay.
Aspects of the story are as gut wrenching as can be expected but I loved it from start to finish.
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