Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

I avoided reading this book for a long time. Why? It made a song in my head. A music curriculum version, one in all those third and fourth grade textbooks. I didn't have YouTube then, so check this out instead:

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson (Warner Books--which I think is now owned by Hachette) is about Ti-Jeanne, who lives in a future, fallen Toronto, and bringing up Baby. She's left her boyfriend, Rudy, to move in with her grandmother, a woman who knows magic of nature and magic of spirits. It draws from Caribbean traditions, and deftly combines the unreal with the grittiness of the city. In the middle of it all, Ti-Jeanne has to fight evil within the confines of the city, and within the confines of her extended family. Chapters are organized with snippets of other work, like "Brown Girl in the Ring," which I only know as a children's game (and only kinda, but that's a long story about not understanding diagrams I had and only getting started on an interest in music/game traditions before I left teaching).

Even when I could figure out what was going to happen next, this book just kept punching me in the gut when the inevitable did happen. Hopkinson is really good at threading together SF and fantasy elements without losing the heart and without shying away from having characters ask tough questions. Redemption isn't easy. Love isn't easy. Forgiveness isn't easy. Societies, now and in speculative futures, don't play by the rules all of the time. I think a lot of budding authors would do well to spend some time living in books like this one and absorbing.

I think that this is a good introduction to Hopkinson's other work; she's got an impressive, thoughtful, and just plain excellent body of writing to dig into, too. (She's also a guest of honor at Sirens this year, and wow, are we fortunate to have her!)

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