I was faithfully supporting young Gabby Douglas during the 2012 Summer Olympics, from the time she was selected for the only guaranteed spot on Team USA, ’til the moment she made Olympic history as the first woman of color and African American gymnast to win the individual all-around gold. Her tiny but strong frame, her unabashed love and gratitude toward God, and her wide, ever-present grin made her America’s sweetheart. I was on my feet cheering when this teen made history. So, when I saw her new autobiography, Grace, Gold & Glory displayed at the bookstore, I hurried to my local library to order a copy.
In Gabby’s light but heartfelt memoir, we’re given a personal glimpse of her origins– a story not many may know– as the youngest of four children to a financially struggling single mother. She was born homeless and sickly, and grew up in a seedy neighborhood, while dealing with racism and bullying in the gym as an adolescent. However, Gabby’s tight-knit and loving family, despite the absence of her father, and her even tighter connection to God pulled her through the roughest times and brought her joy. Despite Gabby’s tremendous accomplishments in gymnastics, it’s clear the other heroine of the tale is her mother. Despite raising four children as a single parent with little to no financial help, the woman tirelessly worked double shifts to afford Gabby’s gymnastic pursuits, and instilled in her daughter strength, discipline, confidence, and faith.
This book’s targeted audience is adolescent girls, likely with religious leanings. I admire Douglas’ integrity in her unabashed personal testimonies of faith, and her quoting of Scripture. It authentically represents who she is (and the publisher is Zondervan, after all). But as this is a book geared for young adults, be prepared for words like ‘sorta’ and ‘kinda,’ as well as ‘lol’ and ‘btw’. Grace, Gold & Glory can be summarized as a relationship-driven biography, ultimately focusing more upon Douglas’s journey than the Olympic destination itself. Adolescent readers will particularly relate to Gabby’s informal, conversational tone and pop culture references, but any reader can admire this young woman’s talent, heart, and unwavering faith.
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis is an award-winning children’s novel published in 1999. In 1930s Michigan, we meet Bud, a young African American boy on the run. He’s looking for a musician, whom he believes may be his father. He finds the man, befriends the band, and eventually discovers the truth behind the man’s – and his own – identity.
Their Eyes Were Watching God was published in 1937, penned by renowned author Zora Neale Hurston. We follow the story of Janie, a young African American woman who breaks all chains of tradition by refusing to marry the man her family had selected for her, and setting off to make her own life. She goes on to help found a new town with the husband of her choice. But when power gets to her husband’s head and their relationship no longer works, she does something unheard of for a woman of color in that time: she leaves. A tragic love story, well ahead of its time in depicting a woman’s journey to freedom and self-actualization, despite the restrictions upon her race and gender.
Native Son is a novel written by Richard Wright in 1940, which explores the question of nature vs. nurture from a racial perspective. The main character, Bigger, is a young black man experiencing the us vs. them world of the 1940s. He resents that he doesn’t have the same opportunities as white boys his age. Eventually, a series of mistakes leads to his unintentional murder of a wealthy white girl. The latter half of this book is his trial. The lawyers argue: were Bigger’s criminal acts his own, or the product of a society that forces his race into the roles expected of them? A thought-provoking and haunting piece of African American literature.
In this beautiful and exceptionally-written coming-of-age novel, The Secret Life of Bees, author Sue Monk Kidd transports us to a 1960s South Carolina summer. Young Lily and her black housekeeper, Rosaleen, are on the run from Lily’s abusive father. Meanwhile, a group of racist white men are after Rosaleen for insulting them. Following the lead of a relic from Lily’s deceased mother, they take refuge in the beautiful home of three beekeeping women of color: sisters August, June, and May.
Although their calendar names may be confusing at first, each sister’s personality is unique and well-established from the others. Assertive August is a “queen bee” and leader-type. She is equally firm yet warmhearted, and interacts the most with Lily. June is rigid; she constantly refuses her boyfriend’s requests to marry him, and takes longer to display any affection, but readers will rightfully suspect she is protecting against a deeper sorrow within. Lastly, May is called “special.” Whether it’s due to mental illness is unclear, but sweet, sensitive May has the compassion of a saint and suffers on behalf of the world. When she hears something tragic, even if it happened to strangers, she cannot detach herself from the event, and lives in mourning as though it had happened to her.
Lily struggles with guilt and sorrow over the death of her mother, all the while fearing that her father will find her and force her to return home with him. But in learning beekeeping, falling into a forbidden interracial romance, and discovering a spiritual path of the divine feminine through the sisters’ patron Black Madonna, young Lily embarks on a deep inner-journey of growth and healing.
This is an incredible book and one of my forever favorites. Kidd is a phenomenal writer and had me thoroughly invested emotionally, mentally, and spiritually in her setting, voice, and characters. I love this book and recommend it to women everywhere.
Meet Dawnie Rae, “Dear America”‘s first 20th century African American heroine, a vibrant and indestructible girl. Dawnie is bright and dreams of becoming a doctor, but she lives in the midst of Jim Crow Virginia in the 1950s, where blacks are segregated from whites, given a much poorer education than in white schools, and have very few opportunities for progress and equality in the South. When Dawnie tests at the top of her class at the African American kids’ school, Bethune, she is eligible to integrate into the white school, Prettyman Coburn, given the recent rulings of Brown v. Board of Education, which deems segregation unconstitutional. As the only black girl in a white school in a town steeped in racism and segregation, she and her family are met with much hatred, prejudice, and violence, not only from white segregationists, teachers and classmates, but even from fellow African American parishioners at her church, who now consider her “uppity” and “too good for the rest of us.”
Dawnie’s narration is among the most animated and humorous of the series. She is every shade of proud, dignified, sarcastic, emotional, fearless, sharp, and kind-hearted; her three-dimensional personality tangibly leaps from the pages. Another refreshing aspect about Dawnie is that she is the first “DA” narrator who is described as having “meat on the bones” or “gristle,” and being “sturdy” and “big-boned;” I am glad the series finally chose to incorporate a bigger girl into its circle of narrators. Along with Dawnie are her loving and supportive parents, who run a laundry business, and her autistic brother who has a fondness for peanuts, causing the family to affectionately call him “Goober.” Much later in the story, we also meet Dawnie’s first white friend, an unforgettably funny, vivacious, and splendid Jewish girl named Gertie. This book is an excellent addition to the series and was a joy to read.