The title of this book put it solidly on my radar as soon as I heard about it (I mean, it’s a fantastic freaking title…so much imagery just from that single phrase!). And once I read the description, the deal was sealed. I had hoped to get to it during #ReadCaribbean (as hosted by @bookofciz in June), but I just didn’t quite make it. My proverbial reading eyes are always bigger than my proverbial reading stomach. Haha.
“All the old heads will say that there ain’t nothing new under the sun (or moon or stars), which is true in a way. But still your life is new for you. How you deal with something for the first time and the way you feel about it is new and yours and sacred.”
Audre is heartbroken when her mother finds out about her relationship with her secret girlfriend and sends her away from Trinidad to live with her father in Minneapolis. Mabel is spending her summer trying to figure out what her feelings for one of her friends/not-feelings for her ex-boyfriend mean while helping her dad in the family garden. When Mabel’s dad announces that his friend’s daughter is moving in with him, all the way from Trinidad, Audre and Mabel become fast friends. Mabel is determined to help Audre settle into American life and Audre finds herself caring for Mabel in a deeper way after she gets some startling and difficult medical test results. As their romance deepens, they both have to learn to adjust to the many unexpected challenges life can bring, but with each other’s support, they’ll be able to.
So, the first thing I have the say, and the overall biggest impression I am taking from this book, is that the narrative voices are AMAZING. They are individual, evocative, authentic and just, so good. And the audiobook narrators crushed it as well – they were so unique to each perspective, had phenomenal inflection, and they brought all three characters (Mabel, Audre and Afua) to life so vividly. There were many other things about this novel that I loved as well. The poems for each astrological sign season that helped mark the passage of time throughout the novel were gorgeous. In fact, they were maybe my favorite parts, writing wise, in the book – so lyrical and thematically appropriate. And speaking of, I loved the way that astrology and cosmology and, in general, multiple types of mysticism and spirituality were woven into this novel. It was such a unique theme and philosophical-ish mix of explorations and explanations that really fit with the major serious concepts addressed (death sentences of health and the penal system, long-term incarceration, finding one’s own way in love, etc.), as well as being really fascinating on just a surface level for me, since I don’t know too much about it all. With that, I loved the many different ways the title was worked into the story.
There were a lot going on in this novel. Lots of characters backgrounds and personalities and stories that were covered. And though I was a bit nervous about them all around the middle of the novel, when things seemed a bit scattered and inconsistent, I have to say, they really were (almost) all brought to a reasonably well-developed close by the end. I got super emotional a couple of times, as things unfolded, and I always have to credit when authors are able to do that. I will say though, I do still have a few reservations about some of the stylistic elements, hearing Queenie’s story through Mabel’s dreams and Afua’s through his own writing (again, in Mabel’s section)…it all tied in, but somehow those two voices in particular felt a little strange coming through in their own words/memories but in Mabel’s voice. And there were some weird jumps in time (that the sign poems helped move between) that felt a bit too abrupt. I don’t know…like I said, it just felt a bit all over the place or spread thin, narratively, at times. But the overall impression I had, by the end, was solid.
The last thing I need to mention, and I wish it wasn’t the case, but I just can’t help it, was that ending. It just did not do it for me. I know there was a lot of mysticism in the book, but it was still all grounded in reality and the constraints of what is believable. I really want to believe it was meant metaphorically, and maybe it was, but it happened too suddenly and then it was just…over. It wasn’t clear that it was or wasn’t meant metaphorically and, being the only truly “magical/magical realism” thing that possibly happened, it just felt like it didn’t fit the rest of the novel and left me with an unsatisfied feeling, which really sucked after the emotional build-up the rest of the book provided. (If you’ve read this, please let me know your thoughts/interpretations on it!)
Overall though, this was a deeply touching, spiritual, introspective exploration of the devastating effects of death sentences (in the various ways they can be applied, which were woven together beautifully and in a way I’ve never seen before), as well as a beautiful coming-of-age for learning to love who you love and be accepted for exactly who you are. It was emotional on so many levels and was voiced super genuinely. Plus, like I said, the astrology sections were super interesting. I really enjoyed the time I spent with this book – there is true literary (and some “real”) magic in its pages.
Some of the many passages I highlighted:
“Our bodies / levitated by the stardust of the ancestors in our bones. / Our ecstasy / got divined in limitless existence.”
“the moon shines on you / you are floating on her waters / she is pleasure immersive and she soaks you to heal / and rocks you to sleep / she is the constellation / of the armored warrior / of water and sand”
“Healing is like falling in love, but deeper. You unite with someone so that you can work alchemy with they soul. So that they might elevate and revive them and heal not only them but their ancestors. And like love, if you don’t know how to protect yourself, it could consume you.”
“Dying is the loneliest feeling I didn’t even know could exist.”
“On death row, in some ways, I feel like I did become the astronaut of my childhood aspirations. I live suspended, distant and hyperaware of all existence. I’m alien, yet affiliated, living like a satellite, away from all that I have ever known.”
“Remember that you are from the stars and that you can return to them. Remember you are a sacred being of love, no matter the darkness of an earthly life. Remember you come from light and return to freedom. Remember you are the healing of your ancestors, that you are Chiron the wounded healer. You heal through the compassion you give to yourself. Remember you are an astronaut of the soul. May you find solace in your travel to another star.”
“It’s weird to see something written in a book that feels real to your heart.”
“embedded under every new civilization is an earth that never forgets”
“You are safe. Universal. Limitless. Sacred. Sensual. Divine. Free.”
“We are what life makes us; even if it’s a tragedy, sometimes you can still blossom something fruitful from it.”
“And we was infinite and knew how to love.”