Book Review: The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson
Neither Dionne, nor her younger sister Phaedra, had ever anticipated their mother actually shipping them home. Home being, in this case, not their shoebox apartment in Brooklyn, but their mother’s hometown in Barbados. And Avril isn’t even going with them. Instead, they’ve been handed off to their grandmother, Hyacinth, a midwife and practitioner of the local spirit practice of obeah.
To Dionne, having been ripped away from her boyfriend, best friend, birthday plans, and beloved Brooklyn, this summer trip to Barbados is more like exile. Phaedra, on the other hand, begins to feel like the hill is the best place for her to grow steady and strong, nourished by stories of her mother and the intimate hill community. Hyacinth, having known her granddaughters solely through letters and pictures, isn’t quite prepared to handle Dionne’s stubborn, heartbroken rebellion, or Phaedra’s confused desperation for validation and affection.
As the three get more familiar with each other, they try to orient themselves around the empty space left by Avril. Things are only made more difficult when the girls’ flashy-like-fool’s-gold father blows into town, apparently having decided it was about time he saw to them. Yet, the Braithwaites are from a long line of strong women — between the three of them, there’s nothing they can’t handle.
Family is complicated. Whether your family is blood-related, made, or a combination of both, loving people through thick and thin isn’t always easy. This book explores the lives and lessons learned of three generations of women, spanning two countries. The girls, especially Dionne, viscerally remind Hyacinth of Avril in countless ways, just as Dionne and Phaedra discover more of their mother in Barbados than they ever knew of her in Brooklyn. Hyacinth, Avril, Dionne, Phaedra — each of their personalities is made distinctive by their age and experiences.
Hyacinth’s roots are planted deep into the earth of the hill. She could never understand why Avril was so determined to leave when it was clear to her that Avril needed the comfort of home more than anyone else. Avril gives so much of her love to people who are powerless to stay — or are indifferent to doing so — that she no longer has enough to sustain herself or her daughters. Dionne loves her mother fiercely, but is so determined to avoid making Avril’s mistakes she’s blind to how recklessly she makes her own. Phaedra is uncertain whether she’s the pitiful, penniless outcast she was in Brooklyn, or the powerful, preternatural woman she might become in Barbados.
5 stars! Recommended for anyone who knows loving your family doesn’t always mean getting along with them.
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