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'The Star Side of Bird Hill' by Naomi Jackson: EW review

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The Star Side of Bird Hill

type:
Book
Current Status:
In Season
author:
Naomi Jackson
publisher:
Penguin Press
genre:
Novel

We gave it an A

Once in a while, you’ll stumble onto a book like this, one so poetic in its descriptions and so alive with lovable, frustrating, painfully real characters, that your emotional response to it becomes almost physical.

In Jackson’s wrenching debut, 16-year-old Dionne and 10-year-old Phaedra Braithwaite are sent to spend the summer of1989 in Barbados with their grandmother, Hyacinth, while their mother, Avril, a former nurse for AIDS patients, stays behind in Brooklyn to recover from a serious bout of depression. As Dionne falls in with a fast crowd—no surprise, since her mother’s illness has forced her to grow up too quickly—sweet, daydreaming Phaedra keeps close to their strange new home, helping Hyacinth with her work as a midwife and practitioner of obeah, a spiritual custom on the island. When a faraway tragedy hits the family like a muffled bomb, the girls’ long-absent father, Errol, comes to collect them, forcing them to choose between lives old and new.

The dual coming-of-age story alone could melt the sternest of hearts, but Jackson’s exquisite prose is a marvel too. On waking up in the middle of the night, she writes, “Phaedra’s body pulled at the light, testing the softer side of midnight.” On insecurity: “She wore her body like a mistake she hoped to one day be forgiven for.” Filled out with Hyacinth’s wise, colorful proverbs, Star Side is a gem of a book. A

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