This is easily one of my favorite books of the year so far. I rarely hand out five stars, in fact, I've been told that I review too harshly. Not even Judy Blume's latest, In the Unlikely Event, received five stars. With the exception of The Turner House, all of my favorite reads this year have been centered in the Caribbean (Til the Well Runs Dry and God Loves Haiti).
Touted as a coming of age story, Star Side follows two sisters, Dionne and Phaedra, who are uprooted from their life in Brooklyn and transplanted in Barbados. And while coming of age usually implies that someone is growing up or entering adulthood, I would argue that all three of the main characters, Hyacinth included, come of age in this well crafted novel.
Sent to Barbados by their mother, Avril, the sisters adjust to life on the island differently. While Phaedra, the younger and more optimistic of the sisters hopes to make friends with the island girls, she quickly finds happiness in having two close friends. (Anyone with good sense will tell you that that's all you really need anyway.)
Dionne, however, is sixteen, that magical age when you know everything, no one can tell you anything and you want to try everything. Having practically raised Phaedra while their mother sat holed up in their Brooklyn apartment, it's no wonder that Dionne craves her independence. And, overall, she really just wants what girls her age want - her freedom to do her thing without question. Her grandmother, Hyacinth, sees so much of her daughter, Avril, in Dionne and you just know that she's going to do her best to break her spirit.
Hyacinth doesn't readily give off the warm and fuzzy granny vibes we so often see in books. She's a bit prickly with the girls and you're never sure if she's always been that way with children or if it's a result of doing years of battle with Avril as a teen. Phaedra craves her attention and Dionne craves her praise, even if she won't admit it.
In most books, there's a turning point when characters come to realize what they should have known all along. For these three, it's the arrival of Errol, the girl's father. Even as he wins over the girls, Hyacinth is reminded of the snake he was and will always be. His actions upset the fragile balance of the household, but eventually causes the trio to draw closer together.
Watching the girls and their grandmother come to know themselves and each other is fascinating. We see Hyacinth bend a little, not becoming soft, but finally acknowledging to herself that neither of the girls is Avril and it may be okay to show real affection to Phaedra and offer praise to Dionne. I also love the idea of Phaedra continuing the family legacy, learning from her grandmother. Mostly, I love that Dionne finally gets a chance to stop being a mother to Phaedra, realizes that she doesn't have to show out for anyone, and just gets to be a teen.
I can't praise this debut novel from Naomi Jackson enough. If you loved Til the Well Runs Dry from Lauren Francis Sharma (which I haven't reviewed on the site, but will soon), this is a must read.
Published; July 2015