"He shuddered. The wind was cold. It tasted of unvisited streams and rock. He wondered again how it had been for his mother making her way in the dark over the mountains. Had she forgotten him? He couldn't sense her out there in the wilderness, but he believed she was there. But where was he? And what was he, standing at the end of a leafy alley in Chattanooga, Tennessee? His hands were still attached, his face uncut, his side unburnt. But for how long? How easy it was to step off into ruin." Pg. 68
Ginny Gall by Charlie Smith is a layered portrait of an African-American young man growing up in the Jim Crow south. Delvin Walker's mother is on the run from the law. Accused of murder, Delvin's mother is not coming back. He and his siblings are left to fend for themselves.
Delvin comes of age as an apprentice for a local funeral home director, Cornelius Oliver. At the funeral home, Mr. Oliver indulges Delvin's love of reading. He even awakens Delvin's deep sense of compassion. The violent death of a young man brings Delvin's unresolved emotions about his mother to the surface. This young man was beaten and burned to death for allegedly stealing from a white woman. His death had eerie parallels to the real-life murder of Emmett Till, a young black boy killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. In Ginny Gall, Delvin realizes he is not that far removed from a beaten and burned black boy in a casket at Mr. Oliver's funeral home. Who is Delvin really? If not for Mr. Oliver's influence, how easy would it be for Delvin to go in the wrong direction? What does the future hold for Delvin? Is his future at the funeral home or is it somewhere else?
It is somewhere else. An incident (if you want to know what read the book) forces Delvin to hit the road. Riding the trains, Delvin sees the world from a different perspective. He's no longer a teenage boy with responsibility. He's a free spirit, learning to survive in a world that is not kind to young black men. He experiences a lot of physical and emotional pain.
I had a hard time with this book. Sometimes I wasn't sure if liked this book or not. I think the author does a good job of highlighting the brutality of racism...but it takes sooooooo long to get there. Smith's prose is very poetic but it's also very detailed. He uses 50 words when 30 will do. Sometimes it was just too much. Sometimes less is more. Overall, I think this was good book that got bogged down with too much detail.
Rating: Give it a try
Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.