Among the Ten Thousand Things

2 of 13
The Star Side of Bird Hill
304 pages; Penguin Press
In this keen-eyed debut, Naomi Jackson introduces two young girls suffering an acute case of culture shock: Self-centered Dionne, 16 (“going on a bitter, if beautiful, forty-five”), and naïve Phaedra, 10, have been yanked from their home in Brooklyn, where their mother is ailing, to live with their grandmother Hyacinth, in Barbados. Far from the picture-postcard image presented in tourist guides, the Caribbean island here feels hot, sticky and overflowing with complicated relationships. (When the girls’ long-absent father comes knocking, it’s not exactly good news.) Add to this: three-hour church services and Hyacinth’s possibly dangerous folk medicines. But at the novel’s core is a tender coming-of-age story that explores the complications of Dionne's first affair with a young suitor (the title refers to her favorite churchyard getaway spot) and the realizations that Phaedra has about her family and her connection to them all, despite their flaws. As Hyacinth puts it, “It wasn’t so much the mistakes that people made but how flexible they were in their aftermath that made all the difference in how their lives turned out.” A lush and sensitive read with a setting well matched for a sultry summer afternoon.
— Mark Athitakis