This lyrical novel of community, betrayal, and love centers on an unforgettable matriarchal family in Barbados. Two sisters, ages ten and sixteen, are exiled from Brooklyn to Bird Hill in Barbados after their mother can no longer care for them. The young Phaedra and her older sister, Dionne, live for the summer of 1989 with their grandmother Hyacinth, a midwife and practitioner of the local spiritual practice of obeah.
Dionne spends the summer in search of love, testing her grandmother’s limits, and wanting to go home. Phaedra explores Bird Hill, where her family has lived for generations, accompanies her grandmother in her role as a midwife, and investigates their mother’s mysterious life.
This tautly paced coming-of-age story builds to a crisis when the father they barely know comes to Bird Hill to reclaim his daughters, and both Phaedra and Dionne must choose between the Brooklyn they once knew and loved or the Barbados of their family.
I received a copy of this novel from Goodreads Giveaways but this has not affected my review in any way.
When I first heard about this novel, the plot didn’t really grab me, but I figured it sounded interesting enough to read. I usually like coming of age stories, especially revolving around family drama, and I’ve been trying to read more diversely. I figured I would read the book and hopefully enjoy it. Unfortunately, I didn’t like it.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the book. The writing is fine, the plot is fine, the characterization is fine. That’s about all that can be said for it though. It’s just fine. I think the trouble with this book is that it’s so close to being something amazing, but it falls short. There are so many threads that could have been unwound and so many aspects of the novel that needed to be fleshed out more. For example, the truth about Dionne and Phaedra’s mother is hinted at but never fully explored. Hyacinth’s practice of obeah is mentioned and then forgotten. Their father appears and disappears in such a random way. It’s like the novel never fully delves into anything important.
I never fully connected with any of the characters either. The perspectives shift from one character to another, but it’s not a smooth transition and it was quite clunky at times. I sympathized with Phaedra and Dionne at certain parts, but never connected with their experiences or ever really liked them. Phaedra was slightly better than Dionne, but not by much. I was expecting to read something about the clash of their experiences in Bird Hill against their experiences in Brooklyn, but once again, it was never fully fleshed out.
This book didn’t deliver on any counts. Not recommended.