Saturday, February 02, 2019

Nine top books about coming of age in a city

Dana Czapnik is the author of The Falconer: A Novel.

At Electric Lit she tagged some of her favorite books featuring kids or young adults coming of age in cities, including:
Gorilla, My Love by Toni Cade Bambara

Gorilla, My Love is an unsung classic. It’s a triumphant short story collection that centers on a few African American girls and women in Harlem and North Carolina in the 1960s. The characters in this collection are self-possessed, whip smart, New York City kids. Hazel speaks her mind and doesn’t pull punches. Sylvia can fart with her armpits and is the fastest runner in her public school and curses like a sailor and is all sorts of charming and wonderful and crass and observant. The whimsical and wild Kit spends a summer hanging out on her tenement’s fire escape, falling for and losing her first love, all the while refusing to stop “singing her own song.”

All of these girls speak in the language of Harlem of the time — the dialect, the pulse, the toughness. Every story sounds like New York. Here’s another key thing: Nothing bad happens to the women in this collection. No one is raped. No one is beaten. No one is cruelly abandoned. None of the horrific things black girls are often subjected to in literature happens here. But these characters are not living in some kind of fictional American utopia either. It’s just that Bambara gives them the space to become fully realized people filled with longing and romance and curiosity and poetry. It is a masterpiece of voice and place.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue