Darkest Childby Delores Phillips
Rozelle favors her light-skinned kids, but Tangy Mae, 13, her darkest-complected child, is the brightest. She desperately wants to
Rozelle Quinn is so fair-skinned that she can pass for white. Her ten children are mostly light, too. They constitute the only world she rules and controls. Her power over them is all she has in an otherwise cruel and uncaring universe.
Rozelle favors her light-skinned kids, but Tangy Mae, 13, her darkest-complected child, is the brightest. She desperately wants to continue with her education. Her mother, however, has other plans. Rozelle wants her daughter to work cleaning houses for whites, like she does, and accompany her to the “Farmhouse,” where Rozelle earns extra money bedding men. Tangy Mae, she’s decided, is of age.
This is the story from an era when life’s possibilities for an African-American were unimaginably different.
Winner of the Black Caucus of the ALA Award
Nominee for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award
“Filled with grand plot events and clearly identifiable villains and victims . . . lush with detail and captivating with its story of racial tension and family violence.”
—The Washington Post Book World
“The Darkest Child is an exceptional debut from a most talented writer. Epic in scope, intimate in tone, it is sure to find a special place in the deepest crevices of your heart.”
“[An] exceptional debut novel . . . [Has] a depth and dimension not often characteristic of a first novel.”
—Library Journal, Starred Review
“Bold memorable characters and enough drama to keep you up all night wondering what can possibly happen next.”
—The Black Book Review
“Evil’s regenerative powers and one girl’s fierce resistance . . . A book that deserves a wide audience.”
—The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Horrific and gripping.”
—Dallas Morning News
“Extraordinary . . . Delores Phillips delivers a narrative with the kind of brutal force that renders the reader breathless . . . A commanding piece of work that will undoubtedly assume a place within a well-established literary tradition, and will place Phillips among a selective group of writers whose abilities as literary artists inspire and encourage conversation and creativity.”
—Noir! African American Book Review
“Phillips writes with a no-nonsense elegance . . . As a vision of African-American life, The Darkest Child is one of the harshest novels to arrive in many years . . . [Phillips] buttresses those harsh episodes with a depth of characterization worthy of Chekhov, pitch-perfect dialogue, and a profound knowledge of the segregated South in the ’50s.”
—The New Leader
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The darkest child
By DELORES PHILLIPS
SOHOCopyright © 2004 Delores Phillips
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePAKERSFIELD, GEORGIA 1958
Mama washed the last dish she ever intended to wash. I alone witnessed the event, in silence. It was on a Friday-a school day-but instead of sitting in a classroom, I was standing in unfamiliar surroundings, the home of my mother's employers, stunned by the wealth around me. As I regarded my mother through unwavering peripheral vision, something in her glances at me seemed to say, "Tangy Mae, this will be your life. Grab an apron and enjoy it."
Domestic servitude was not what I desired for myself, but she had only to speak and I would do anything she asked. It was my obligation to obey her though I did not want to be like my older brothers, Harvey and Sam, who seemed to breathe at our mother's command. They were men, and their lack of initiative disturbed me, although I knew they could not just leave our mother's house. Departure required consideration of consequences and a carefully planned escape.
At the age of thirty-five, our mother was tall and slender with a head of thick reddish-brown hair. Her face, with its cream-colored skin and high cheekbones beneath dark gray eyes, was set off by a gleaming white smile accented by dimples. I thought she was beautiful, despite my acquaintance with the demon that hibernated beneath her elegant surface.
She had worked seven years cleaning house for the Munford family. Now she stood at their kitchen sink holding a dish under running water longer than necessary before handing it to me to wipe. She finally dried her hands on her apron, took a seat at the table, and waited for her pain to subside. She had spent most of the day complaining of her misery while instructing me on the proper way to make a bed, scrub a floor, polish silverware, use a washing machine, and on and on.
According to Mama, her pain-something like gas-had begun during the wee hours of the morning. It balled up in her chest, rolled through her stomach, between her thighs, and into her knees. It did a slow dribble in her swollen ankles, then just like that-her finger snapped-it bounced back to her chest and started all over again, taking her breath away.
On the table, beneath a crystal saltshaker, was an envelope. She picked it up and fanned it before her face. "Fifteen dollars" she said indignantly. "I don't care what I do 'round here, it's always the same fifteen dollars. Never mind that I stayed late on Tuesday evening when Mister Frederick's mother came for dinner. Never mind that I walked to the Colonial for flour that Miss Arlisa forgot to pick up. Week in, week out, always the same fifteen dollars."
She removed the bills and tucked them inside the pocket of her dress, then slid the envelope and a pencil across the table. "Sit down" she said, "I want you to write me a note to Miss Arlisa."
My obedience, as always, was swift.
"Dear Miss Arlisa," Mama started as soon as I was seated across from her. "Tangy Mae can do just as good a job as I can. She is my child and I learned her good. She can start work for you on Monday. I will be dead"'
My hand trembled slightly, but I wrote the note exactly as she dictated. She snatched the envelope from the table, scanned the words, then passed it back to me. "Sign it, Rozelle Quinn," she said. "Miss Arlisa probably won't even know who that is. All they know 'round here is Rosie. Rosie do this and Rosie do that."
I sat there dumbfounded. Loss traveled through my body, pulsed at my temples, and numbed my fingertips. I wanted to wail, to one-up her moans, believing my pain to be more severe than anything she could be feeling.
"You got something you wanna say?" she asked.
"No, ma'am," I answered, forcing myself to look at her. There was plenty I wanted to say. Words were choking me. I covered my mouth with my hand so that Mama could not hear the words that might seep out. Mama, you promised Mr. Pace that you would let me go to school one more year. You promised me the ninth grade. You promised! Mr. Pace thinks I'm smart. Please, Mama, let me go to school!
But I had nothing with which to bargain and I knew it. Already I had attended school longer than any of my siblings. I was in ninth grade, which in itself was miraculous, considering I had never set foot in an eighth-grade classroom. Academically, I surpassed my peers, but at home I was a complete failure. At the age of twelve, my mother's children were expected to drop out of school, get a job, and help support the family. I fell short of expectations.
"We gotta get on home" Mama said. "Put me a bit of coffee and sugar in some wax paper. And, Tangy Mae, don't make it noticeable."
"Yes, ma'am," I said, and thought how calm my mother appeared for a woman who planned to be dead come Monday morning.
Holding onto the table with one hand and supporting her back with the other, she heaved herself to her feet, then removed her apron and hung it in the broom closet. She checked the house one last time to make sure everything was in order, retrieved yesterday's newspaper from a basket beside the trash bin, then ushered me out by way of the back door.
The bitter cold January afternoon seemed to freeze my mother's face into a mask of disdain. "They done seen the last of me," she grumbled. "They don't give a damn if I freeze to death. They don't care nothing 'bout me, and I don't care nothing 'bout them."
I knew she was talking to herself, so I walked along beside her, keeping my mouth and my coat tightly closed. Sometimes Mama would come home from work and talk about the Munfords for hours. Miss Arlisa, she opined, was a fat, lazy white woman who had no idea how to keep house or satisfy a man. Mr. Frederick was a show-off, who drove his automobile around town, honking the horn, and bragging about everything he possessed, including his ugly wife.
I had seen them only once, the time they brought Mama home with a load of old clothes they had given her. The only things I knew about the Munfords were that they owned the hardware store in town and that Mrs. Munford was not nearly as ugly as Mama had described her. She was not nearly as pretty as Mama, either.
"I been watching you," Mama said, as we walked along the paved street that led out of East Grove and toward the Cherokee Creek Bridge that would take us into Stump Town. "You think them Munfords is rich white folk, don't you? Well, they ain't rich. If you wanna see rich, you gotta go up there on Meadow Hill. That's where the really classy white folks live. They got mansions up there that take from morning to night to clean, and that's wit' five and six people working. These East Grove whites bow down to them on Meadow Hill, and you better believe it."
I had long been familiar with the Pakersfield hierarchy which ranked Meadow Hill supreme. Everybody bowed to somebody, but, all in all, Pakersfield was a decent place to live. The Negroes had Stump Town, the flats, and Plymouth, while the whites had Meadow Hill, East Grove, and North Ridge. There was never any trouble as long as everybody stayed where they belonged. We usually did.
Miss Janie Jay's house was the first house on the Stump Town side of Cherokee Creek. Mama didn't care much for Miss Janie, claimed she was highfalutin and put on airs, so it surprised me when she strolled through the gate and up to Miss Janie's porch. I hesitated for only a second before following.
"Knock on that door and tell Janie I'm dying out here and I'd be much obliged for a drank of water," Mama said.
Miss Janie taught Sunday school and sang in the choir at the Solid Rock Baptist Church. She was old, probably about sixty or so. She wore her hair parted down the center with a thick gray plait on each side. On Sundays she covered the plaits with one of her many fancy hats, and when the spirit moved her, she would wave one hand in the air and hold tight to the hat with her other hand.
"Tangy Quinn," she said, opening the door and staring out at me. "Shouldn't you be at school?"
"Mama's real sick, Miss Janie," I said. "She's out here on your porch and wants to know if you can spare her a drink of water"
"I'm dying, Janie," Mama groaned. She had positioned herself on Miss Janie's porch swing, slumped over, with her head resting between the chains, looking as if she might die at any second.
"Rosie, what is it?" Miss Janie showed alarm at the sight of Mama. "Just hold on, honey. I'll get you some water."
While Miss Janie went for water, I kept a close watch on my mother. Her eyes were closed and her arms rested against her abdomen with one hand clutching the newspaper. She moaned, shook her head as if disapproving of the sound, then moaned again. She did that several times, changing the pitch and depth of each moan, before it dawned on me that she was rehearsing her suffering, exaggerating her misery.
By the time Miss Janie returned, Mama was trembling all over, tears streaked her cheeks, and her hair was loose and tangled about her head. She was in such a state that it took me and Miss Janie both to get her into an upright position. Miss Janie held the glass and Mama took a few sips of water before slumping over again.
"Rosie, maybe you need something hot," Miss Janie suggested. "I can get you some tea."
"No, Janie. I'm going home to my children," Mama whispered. "This is a terrible way to die, but I need to be wit' my children. There's things I need to tell 'em before it's too late."
Miss Janie's eyes brimmed with tears. "Oh, Rosie, I'm so sorry," she said. "Just remember, Jesus saves. Put your trust in Jesus"
Miss Janie tried to get Mama to come inside to warm herself, and offered to call the doctor, but Mama refused. Miss Janie helped her to her feet and walked us out to the gate, saying we should pray, that God answers prayer.
Mama held tightly to my arm and used my shoulder to support her weight as we made our way slowly up Oglesbee Street. My knees were so cold that I knew if one touched the other I was going to fall to the ground, taking my dying mother with me. As we turned the corner onto Chestnut Street, Mama loosened her grip on my arm. She straightened her back, smoothed and pinned her hair in place, then smiled and winked at me.
Painfully, I parted my frost-chapped lips and returned a smile. I loved her with all my heart, but if she did not die by Monday morning, I was determined to discover from the pages of my schoolbooks, how to break the chains that bound me to my mother.
Chapter TwoOur house stood alone on a hill off Penyon Road, about half a mile outside the city limits. It was old, crippled, and diseased-an emblem of poverty and neglect. Nature had tried to cure it by embracing the rear frame with herbs, roots, and a jumble of foliage which spilled over from the surrounding woodland. Nature had failed, and in frustration she sought to destroy the house by eroding the very foundation on which it stood.
Erosion had left the house slanted at an odd angle, held up on the east side by thick, round poles lodged into tilted, unstable earth. Occasionally, huge chunks of brown earth shook loose, skirted around the poles, and rolled down the slope into a waiting gully.
All of my life home had been these three drafty rooms under the same rusted tin roof. The house swayed in the wind but stood. It absorbed its fall of rainwater and stood. It groaned under the weight of celebrations and sorrows and did not crumble. But for how much longer? I thought we might wake up one morning-or not wake up-in the rocky, muddy gully below. Or maybe we would simply blow across the dirt road and get lost in the overgrown field of weeds. I could not predict what would happen, but I feared we were destined for disaster.
Mama stood at the foot of thirteen sagging, rickety steps that led up to a wide, shaky porch. All pretense was over. She was gasping for breath as she placed one foot on the first step and began, gingerly, to climb. She had almost reached the top when her knees buckled. My arms shot out instinctively, ready to break her fall.
"Tara! Tarabelle!" I screamed.
"Be quiet!" Mama snapped, regaining her balance and resuming her climb. "Ain't no need to wake the dead."
The front door, which was as much cardboard as plywood, swung open and my sister, Tarabelle, appeared on the porch. "What is it?" she asked irritably. "Why you calling me like that?"
"Mama's sick," I answered breathlessly, my heart pounding in my chest.
Tarabelle was sixteen and almost as tall as Mama. She had long, jet black hair, a copper-colored complexion, and the cold, black eyes of a dead poker player. I had never seen the eyes of a dead person-in fact, I had never seen a poker game but-I had heard that poker faces were expressionless, and I knew that dead people showed no emotion. That was Tarabelle. She stepped back, regarded our mother with those cold black eyes. Her mouth twitched as if she might smile, but I knew better.
"She ain't sick," Tarabelle said, still staring at Mama. "She 'bout ready to have that baby. That's all."
I had been ignorant in my innocence but I was wiser than my sister because I had learned to study Mama as diligently as I studied my books. I watched our mother as she squeezed the collar of her coat. I heard her sharp intake of breath. I saw frustration and pain leap from the core of her soul and surge the length of her arm, down to the delicate hand that struck my sister's face.
The blow sent Tarabelle reeling back. She bounced off the porch wall and landed less than an inch from the drop that would have taken her down into the gully. She lay there, those cold, black eyes boring into the equally cold, gray eyes of our mother.
"I'm dying" Mama said with calm finality.
Tarabelle gripped the splintered boards at the edge of the porch and nodded her head. "Yes, ma'am."
Edna Pearl and Laura Gail, who were only four and five, stood in the doorway, staring in fascinated fright. I watched as Edna stole back into the shadowy gloom pierced intermittently by daylight filtering in through cracks in the walls. It was our only source of illumination until dusk, when we were allowed to light the kerosene lamps. I knew Edna had gone to alert Martha Jean to our mother's presence.
My next eldest sibling, Martha Jean, was a defective replica of our mother. She could not hear and had never spoken one coherent sentence in her life. There but by the grace of God went I, for only eleven months separated her silent beauty from my articulate homeliness. My imagination ran rampant when I thought of our births. I would fantasize Martha Jean stubbornly refusing to leave our mother's womb until I was conceived. We would blend together, and my thick nose would become thin; my coarse, tangled hair would become silky and straight, and I would have deep dimples in my cheeks. And, in turn, Martha Jean would be able to hear and speak.
Excerpted from The darkest child by DELORES PHILLIPS Copyright © 2004 by Delores Phillips. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Delores Phillips was born in Bartow County, Georgia in 1950, the second of four children. She graduated from Cleveland State University with a bachelor of arts in English and works as a nurse at a state psychiatric hospital. Her work has appeared in Jean’s Journal, Black Times, and The Crisis. She has lived in Cleveland, Ohio since 1964.
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This was a great read-full of great detail, names, and description and true to the era. The characters were something else. Tangy Mae tells the story from l3 year old eyes and is wise beyond her years. Yet she is still a child, still learning about life, and can't seem to do much about the situation she is in with all the craziness around her. Her mother Rozelle is wild, crazy and physically abusive-yet, in a warped kind of way, she still has love for her children. I read the book in two days because I couldn't wait to see what would happen. These characters have a lot left in them and I hope there is a sequel. I want to know what happens to Tangy and I want the mother to get hers. Great book.
I listened to this cd and felt the narrator did a good job of breathing life into the characters. I cringed at the sounds made by Martha Jean when she was stabbed in the hand with an icepick. Being from the south, I picked up on some words and phrases that the narrator mispronounced, but all in all she did a good job, and the story was excellent.
I can't belive that this is her first book she is very good. I enjoyed the book from the beginning to the end. Loved it!!! did not want the book to end.
This book was amazing and the detail was more than great. Rozelle was a crazy character and I would hate to have a mother like her. Every character was amazing in there own way, but that Tangy Mae was smart and very strong within herself.
This powerful story is an extradinary work, and commands a place in my lending library. I will remember the characters for a very long time, especially the mother's darkest child. Please read this story if you believe in the determination to find a dream and hold on to it, no matter how hard you struggle to keep it within your reach, as this child had to do.
This story was extremely depressing and the sick twisted mother in the story should have been locked away, starting from chapter one. The writing for me was very boring and I never got that involved with all the characters. My boyfriend also had a hard time connecting with the writing because it was just so wordy. He never even finished reading the book. I finally did finish reading the book but definetly not a page turner for me. Also the ending was not much of a ending.
I love reading books and for a while this book was calling my name, so I finally decided to get it. If a book is really good, I can't put it down. Lets just say I got done reading this book in two days. They should make a movie out of this one. I'd give this 2 million stars if I could. But that Rozelle... man o man.
This book was outstanding from beginning to end. I wished I could go inside of the book and just hug Tangy Mae. Rozelle...There is nothing to discribe this character. If Oprah ever wanted to make a movie this needs to be the one. I don't know how anyone could not like this book. 5 stars to Delores Phillips !
Back in the 40's, 50's and 60's seems like a lot of blacks in America experience life in the way it was potrayed in this book. I could even relate to this story and felt a lot of anger, sorrow, and stress. I could not put the book down. I want to go in the book for just 30 minutes to give that mother a piece of my mind. Times being like they were I can understand her delima. I really think this book should become a movie.
This is the best book that I have read in a long time (and I have over 500 books). I wish that I can put into words how good this book was but the only word that comes to mind in FABULOUS!!!!!!!!!!!! That Rozelle was something else.
Delores Phillips has outdone herself with this book. It remains to be seen what she's going to do next(I can't wait to see). This book is a must read. Delores aids you in relating, loving and hating some characters all at once. Please read, you'll love it.
I felt this novel was very well done, it held my interest to the very end, and I look farward to other books by this author. great job!!!
I have to say that when I read the synopsis, I was hestitant to begin reading this story - I can't stand mean mothers! But...it was a book club selection, so I had to read it. After page 2 or 3, I couldn't put it down. This is an ENGROSSING story. This novel evoked so many strong emotions...fear (for the children), surprise, disdain, horror, shock, terror....even though these characters are fictional, I cried for their misfortune. I feel that this story was masterfully told by the author. It's hard to believe that it's a debut novel.
Usually after 5 minutes of reading a book, i fall asleep. However reading this book was exciting. I didnt want to put the book down, I kept wanting to know what will happen next ! Truly great story
what an excellent story, i couldn't put it down. how refreshing to read a story after all the junk that is out there. PLease, write more... What happens to tangy mae & the others?
MS PHILLIPS YOUR BOOK HAS BROUGHT ME BACK TO READING, AFTER OVER 5 YEARS OF NOT PICKING UP A BOOK I RAN ACROSS THIS UNBELIEVABLE STORY THAT I COULD NOT PUT DOWN. PLEASE DO NOT LEAVE US ALL HANGING. WE MUST KNOW MORE ABOUT TANGY MAE AND HER FAMILY.
This was an excellent debut by Ms. Phillips! The book was touching and repulsive at the same time. Tangy Mae was a heroine in her own right. The only thing I hated was wondering what happened next!
'Ms. Phillips, thank you.' Delores Phillips in her literary debut set the bar with 'The Darkest Child' as this book is a literary masterpiece. This book made me feel and I am forever grateful for that experience as she also created dialogue that I feel needs to be answered before I leave this Earth. I cried, I laughed, I had to stop at times as it was getting to be too much, but, in the end 'The Darkest Child' is a book that needs to be read by every Black person. Ms. Phillips though is wrong on one account as this book is real. The protagnoist, Tangy Mae Quinn, exists, as do Rozelle, Tarabelle, Sam, Harvey, Hambone, Martha Jean, Mushy, just to name a few. These characters are real. The situations are real. Reading this book gave me a peek into what it must have been like living in the segregrated South as a Black man or rather being Black period, and the anger I felt at white people in their view and treatment of Blacks, and how the effects of that time still carry on today. I encourage each of you to purchase this book and buy an extra one and give it to someone. --Juss
WHAT A TOUCHING & MOVING STORY. THE STRENGTH THAT TANGY MAE POTRAYED WAS NEVER ENDING. IT WAS THAT STRENGTH THAT GOT HER THROUGH ALL OF THE BEATINGS THAT HER MOTHER INFLICTED UPON HER. THIS BOOK ENCOURAGES YOU TO MAKE IT THROUGH WHATEVER SITUATION YOU FIND YOURSELF IN. JUST KEEP THE FAITH AND NEVER LOOK BACK. THIS BOOK IS DEFINETLY WORTH READING.
I EAGER AWAIT MS PHILLIPS NEXT OFFERING!!!!
I really enjoyed this book. I laughed and cried while reading this book. It is really a page turner. I greatly recommend this book. And to Ms.Phillips I really hope there is a sequel to this book or just another great book such as this or with characters like Tangy Mae, her mother(although I would have had Rozelle thrown in jail for the things she did) and her siblings from the youngest to the oldest. They all seem like someone I know or have known. I fell in love with this book with the first page. Keep up the awesome work Ms.Phillips.
Rozelle Quinn, the matriarch and villainess in the novel ¿The Darkest Child,¿ may soon become the most detested character in the history of fiction. She is a physically abusive mother who not only spanks her children with a leather belt but also burns their flesh with smoldering pokers straight from the fireplace, pours steaming hot coffee in their faces, and punches them in the face sending teeth flying and causing eyes to swell like a world class pugilist. She encourages the children to steal for the good of the family. She even forces her teenage daughters into a life of domestic servitude and prostitution (a life she knows all too well) for the extra money it brings into the household, which she always claims for herself. Psychologically, she¿s even worse, ranking her children by skin tone, claiming the lighter skinned ones are more valuable than the darker ones. When some of them make plans to leave her house for good, she either makes them feel guilty enough to stay or finds a way to sabotage their plans. The story is told from the perspective of Tangy Mae, Rozelle¿s darkest and most intelligent child. The setting is the fictitious, rural town Pakersfield, Georgia. Tangy Mae, who is 13 when the book commences in 1958, dreams of someday being the first in her family to finish high-school in order to make something of her life. But there are many obstacles, including Jim Crow laws, racism, poverty, and most of all her sadistic mother who wants her to quit school to get a job for the purpose of helping take care of the family, which includes nine other siblings, all of them by different men. Though Tangy Mae is the storyteller, the lives of her brothers and sisters are given just as much attention as she. This includes Tarabelle, Tangy¿s strong and brave older sister who hates her mother for forcing her to service men in The Farmhouse, Harvey, her older brother who wants to marry an undertaker¿s daughter, Martha Jean, her deaf younger sister who falls for an older man for whom Tangy also has a crush, and Sam her brother whose dreams of equal opportunity leave him framed for a crime he didn¿t commit. When Mushy, Tangy¿s older sister, returns to Georgia after a four-year, self-imposed exile to Cleveland, she fills her brothers¿ and sisters¿ heads with ideas on following in her footsteps-far away from their abusive mother. Meanwhile, Rozelle will stop at nothing to keep her children home with her. ¿The Darkest Child¿ is a beautifully written work of art that is hard to put down. Its descriptive writing is reminiscent of classic works from Alice Walker, Ralph Ellison, and Ernest Hemingway. Consider the following passage as an example: [And the sound of silence was frightening. Rain pounded the tin roof like a thousand demons marching for their master, and the roof yielded. Liquid curses splashed down upon our heads and into the waiting vessels. In the gray shadows of a rainy dusk, the clock on the table ticked rhythmically, but the hands never moved. They were stuck.] Simply beautiful. This novel will undoubtedly cause you to cringe with its graphic depiction of violence. The characters will make you cry and laugh. They will also leave you longing for the escape they desire. But most of all, this book will make you fall in love with the writing of Delores Phillips, a Cleveland resident who works as a nurse and holds a degree in English from Cleveland State University. Not only is it the one of best debut novels available, but it is easily one of the best novels ever written. ¿The Darkest Child¿ is a masterpiece.
This book captured my heart from beginning to end, I read 3-6 novels each month and this was a page turner that I completed in less than 24 hours, each character was memorable, the events had me holding my breath, shaking in anger, and weeping. All told with the voice of a young Tangy Mae, wise beyond her years. The story is reminiscent of a color purple or only twice I wish for heaven, yet edgier. It is truly a story of strength, courage, and perseverance
THIS WILL BE THE BEST BOOK I READ ALL YEAR UNTIL MS PHILLIPS WRITES ANOTHER. I LOVED AND HATED, CRIED AND GOT OUT BOXING GLOVES, THIS BOOK IS AN INSTANT CLASSIC.
Remember the 70's television comedy called Good Times? It seemed good things rarely happened to the Evans family and you frequently found yourself wishing for something magical to happen that would whisk them out of their unfortunate existence. Well, The Darkest Child is like the literary equivalent of Good Times, except this story takes place in a house on Penyon Road, somewhere in the state of Georgia during the late 50's and early 60's. And this time the sorrows and afflictions experienced by the family come at the hand of the mother, Rozelle Quinn, a woman who inflicts so much abuse on her kids that you cannot keep up. The story is narrated by Tangy Mae, a teenage woman/child that the mother labels as ugly. Rozelle sleeps with men, chain smokes, drinks, cries, yells, hallucinates, and does all kinds of unusual and disturbing things that make the reader feel sorry for the kids and wonder about their eventual outcome. The Darkest Child's strength lies in its commanding writing voice; for this book to be written in first person, it's wonderful and amazing to be able to hear the voices of all the characters. Another strength is the strong and vivid descriptions. Some of the painful scenes can make you physically react, as if you're being abused instead of the children. The characters are engaging but there are so many of them that you may not feel attached to them or remember which one is which, but the story is still compelling enough to keep you drawn to the characters' dilemma. In addition it would have been great if the root of mother's behavior was explained so the reader could know the history and motivations behind her horrendous actions. This book is highly recommended due to its originality, excellent writing, and unpredictability, and because, as far as I know, there aren't too many books that can be compared to The Darkest Child. It is an engaging and dark read that won't be soon forgotten.