Author – Randi Pink
Publisher – Feiwel & Friends
Publish Date – 12th January 2021
Genre – Historical YA / Fiction
POV – Third person
Pages – 297
Inside Greenwood, a prosperous, tightknit, Black neighbourhood in 1921, Isaiah and Angel are dealing with the hardships of life, growing up, finding who they are and falling in love. On May 31st, 1921, twelve days later, in the early hours of the morning, Greenwood, the place that has nurtured the both of them, is burning. A mob of white men and women destroying and looting what the community had built for itself.
“Greenwood was burning. The only space for Black Tulsans in the white imagination had become too successful. Too much of a threat, so now it, too, was being taken away…”
This book hurt to read. The writing sweeping between sleepy, dreamy and aching. The divide between black Greenwood and white Tulsa ever present in the minds of Greenwood residents. The uniqueness of their community, the thriving, close sense of community strung tightly through the book. The journey of the two main characters Isaiah and Angel, soft and new. These elements combined make the impending events of the Greenwood massacre all the more heartbreaking.
The first 50-60% of the book, though consisting throughout of short chapters, can feel slow paced. You almost forget what it’s all leading up to, getting lost in the lives of Isaiah and Angel, their personal struggles and growth, who they want to be, how to get there, their still forming beliefs, their interactions with their neighbours, all looking out for them. Contrasts sharply with the horrific and sickening dismemberment of their district.
“Logic told her that they’d certainly target the thriving community center. That was the whole point, she’d long surmised, to steal it all. Possess that which didn’t belong to them, from the drugs in Williams Drugstore, to the carvings in Mr. Morris’s woodshop, for the people of Greenwood to continue to serve at their leisure.”
The characters are flawed but you can’t help but feel a sense of compassion for them in their inner most desires, hopes and their will to change, be kind, brave and helpful. There’s a wisdom, understanding, patience and vulnerability to the surrounding community. You feel their connection, their complications and their love. They created a powerfully tragic and humanising stage for the events of the massacre to unfold, giving a voice lost in the real events.
“Those screams belonged to her church members, her classmates, her teachers, her doctors. They belonged to the people who made up the beautiful and complicated periphery of her lovely life.”
It is heartbreaking to think that the real-life events of the Tulsa Massacre were neither the first, last or worst of the struggle for Black Americans. That this event was not widely taught about. That the long reach of these kinds of cruelty, racism, unfairness and injustice are too often not recognised. I was so moved by this book. I couldn’t recommend it enough.
5/5 – A story of love, self-discovery and tragedy.
Read about the true events of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre here.