Imani All Mine

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Overview

Connie Porter's first novel, All Bright Court, was greeted nationwide by the highest critical acclaim. "Porter has mapped a rich fictional world...This is a powerful and affecting debut," declared The New York Times. In her new novel, Porter returns to the ghettoized world of Buffalo, New York, with the wonderfully affecting story of Tasha, 15 years old and the unwed mother of a baby girl.

Tasha is a remarkable character, a child mothering a child--spunky, sassy, brimming with ...

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Overview

Connie Porter's first novel, All Bright Court, was greeted nationwide by the highest critical acclaim. "Porter has mapped a rich fictional world...This is a powerful and affecting debut," declared The New York Times. In her new novel, Porter returns to the ghettoized world of Buffalo, New York, with the wonderfully affecting story of Tasha, 15 years old and the unwed mother of a baby girl.

Tasha is a remarkable character, a child mothering a child--spunky, sassy, brimming with the hopefulness and frank wisdom of youth despite her circumstances. The name she gives her daughter, Imani, is a sign of her determination and fundamental trust: Imani means faith. "Mama say I'm grown now because I got Imani. She say Imani all mine. I know she all mine, and I like it just like that, not having to share my baby with no one."

Narrated in Tasha's street-smart and lyrical voice, Imani All Mine tracks Tasha's progress as she navigates her journey to adulthood in an increasingly violent world. Like A. J. Verdelle's The Good Negress, Porter's new novel transcends harsh reality to uncover joy and humor against all odds.

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Editorial Reviews

Andrea Higbie
...[T]he story of great promise shining through monstrous obstacles....The devastation of that promise is expertly depicted...
The New York Times Book Review
Martha Southgate
Using Tasha's first-person voice with authority and grace, Porter tells a story that is true of many of our girls. Tasha makes a lot of mistakes and suffers enormous tragedy, but her spirit and life go on. You'll think of her the next time you see a baby with a baby—and maybe your thoughts won't be as harsh.
Essence Magazine
Library Journal
Tasha is 15, an honors student struggling to live up to her mother's dreams of college and life beyond their poor black neighborhood. She is also a rape victim and a single mother, determined that she alone will give her baby, Imani, a good future in the midst of poverty, drugs, gangs, and ignorance. Even the baby's name is a sign of Tasha's hope--Imani means "faith." When gang violence assaults her family, Tasha's innocence is shattered, and she must summon every ounce of strength within her to survive. This story, told in Tasha's street-lingo, is full of humor, joy, sadness, hopeful innocence, and gritty realism. Porter, author of All-Bright Court (LJ 6/15/91) and the Addy books in the "American Girl" series, gives Tasha great wisdom, grace, charm, and a moving, poetic voice. Highly recommended for most fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/98.]--Karen Anderson, Superior Court Law Lib., Phoenix
School Library Journal
YA-Imani's name means "faith," and her mother, Tasha, is a 15-year-old African-American high school honors student. Tasha's mother is emotionally distant and the teen resolutely turns away from the attempts of other well-meaning adults to help her. Gradually, it emerges that Imani was conceived as the result of a rape, but Tasha cannot see anything of the hated father in the baby. Daily occurrences include gunfire, encounters with crack dealers, cleaning up after her mother's alcoholic friend, and her first willing sexual encounters (with a boy as confused as she is). Porter tells this story entirely in dialect, and although the lack of quotation marks sometimes creates confusion, for the most part the narrative draws readers into this teenager's life. The author is particularly successful at portraying adults: teachers, relatives, and neighbors are believably and often amusingly complex even while Tasha's view of them remains that of a child. In an emotionally wrenching ending, Imani is killed, the victim of gang violence, whereupon Tasha finds faith of a different sort through her community. In a final twist that makes sense allegorically even while it is perhaps the most inexplicable development of all, Tasha chooses to become pregnant again. Whether seen as a tale of hopelessness or "faith," this tale is sure to find a passionate readership among teens, who will hear a kindred spirit in Tasha's vivid, unforgettable voice.-Christine C. Menefee, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Andrea Higbie
...[T]he story of great promise shining through monstrous obstacles....The devastation of that promise is expertly depicted... -- The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
African-American Porter has again created a protagonist with her own voice and an affirming take on life in Buffalo's inner city-where guns kill the innocent and where teenagers too often end up having babies. High-schooler Tasha, the 15-year-old narrator, tells her story with an authenticity that adds even more grit and realism to a tale that's often a headline. She lives with her baby daughter Imani (meaning faith "in some African language") and her mother Earlene. Imani looks just like Tasha, which makes Tasha, who doesn't have much else of her own, rather happy. Her story builds quietly, almost off-handedly...as the girl describes her exhausting daily routine in the most matter-of-fact terms: not only must she care for Imani, but she also has to bring the baby along to school. While Imani is taken care of in the school's daycare center, Tasha conscientiously attends classes. Her own mother, never married, was too busy with her boyfriends to comfort Tasha on the night she was raped at knife-point in a nearby park, and she was even too busy to notice (until labor began) that her daughter was pregnant. The rapist and father of Imani is a fellow student, a boy who, Tasha thought, "really liked" her ("As fat as I am. As black as I am"), which is why she left the Skate-A-Rama with him that evening. Now, thankfully, he doesn't even seem to recognize her. Meanwhile, as she tries to build a life for herself and her newborn, Tasha records all of Imani's milestones; nervously observes her neighbor's drug-dealing; grudgingly grows fond of her mother's white boyfriend Mitch; and stoically tries to keep up with her schoolwork.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780395838082
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 1/27/1999
  • Pages: 212
  • Lexile: 580L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.85 (w) x 8.58 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Read an Excerpt



Chapter One


Say, Say, Say

Mama say I'm grown now because I got Imani. She say Imani all mine. I know she all mine, and I like it just like that, not having to share my baby with no one. Imani even look like me. I know she do, got my nose on her face, and my lips, my hands. Her fingers shaped just like mine, wide and flat. I don't care what nobody say, who they say they might see in her. It's only me in her.

    When I be getting up with her at night, it be my own face looking back at me. I want to be mad at her because it be two o'clock in the morning. Imani so little she don't know when it's a weekend, and I ain't got to get up and go nowhere. She don't know when it's a weekday, and I be having to get up and go to school. It's high school now. Lincoln. I got to get there a whole hour earlier than I had to get to middle school. But I don't be mad at Imani when I look her in the face and see me. I be smiling at her. Real quick I go to her, because Mama done told me she don't want to hear Imani crying. She say she going to get me if she cry too much.

    Even though I done had her just five months, I got things down right. It's what you call a routine. Before Imani can let out one good scream, my feet be on the floor. Sometimes it seem I still be sleep, but I go pick her up from her crib. She still light, like a doll or a puppy. It seem like she was heavier when she was inside my stomach.

    I press her face against my shoulder and take her downstairs to fix her bottle. Imani a good baby. A real good baby. She know she got to be quiet, so when I hold her headagainst my titties, she hush right up. She don't want to see me get in no trouble. While the bottle heat up, I walk with her around the kitchen. She like that. It's like she even know the routine. We walk around in the dark kitchen with that tiny blue flame dancing under the pot on the stove.

    I take her in the living room and punch on the TV. There don't be nothing on. Our cable done been cut off. Even our illegal cable that June Bug had climbed up the pole and hooked up for us. One day last year I was coming home from school and seen this white man from the cable company up on a pole cutting wires left and right. Some of our neighbors was peeping out they curtains. But they ain't come out. Not even June Bug. I seen him like a shadow pressed inside his screen door, watching that cable man cut down the pair of sneakers that was hanging on the wires in front of his house. June Bug wait for the cable man to leave and he went and got them sneakers and tied them back together. I heard this boy on the bus say once drug dealers be hanging up sneakers in front of they houses. That sound stupid to me. Like they advertising. Everybody know June Bug sell drugs. He don't need no sneakers announcing it.

    Me and Mama was sitting out on the front porch, watching him and not watching him. We was drinking us some good sweet and cold Kool-Aid and eating salt-and-vinegar potato chips. June Bug kept tossing them sneakers. Seem like he had two wounded gray and nasty-looking birds folded up in his hands. Trying to get them back up into the sky. He threw them up about ten times and they come crashing back to the ground. This little cockeye boy that live down at the corner with his grandma come running up the street and say he could toss them sneakers up there. I thought he going to clunk hisself in the head. But he got them sneakers up on a telephone wire in just two throws with his cockeye self.

    June Bug say, You all right little man. In a few years I'm going to have you working for me. He give that boy some money, and that boy went racing back down the street.

    Mama say it was a shame, because June Bug the one got that boy mama all strung out in the first place on that stuff. That's how come he living with his grandma in the second place.

    I ain't say nothing about them. I ask Mama about the cable.

    She say, What you want me to do? I'm sick of this shit. That's the second time they done come and cut the cable.

    I say, You can pay the bill.

    Mama say, If I had money to pay the goddamn bill in the first place, we wouldn't have to bootleg.

    When I told Mama maybe we could get June Bug to go back up the pole, she roll her eyes at me and suck her teeth. Huh, she say. I ain't paying no more damn twenty dollars for nobody to go up no pole to turn around and ain't got no service. We watching whatever come on for free.

    So when I be watching our old boring stone-age TV at night with Imani, ain't even no point in turning on the sound. The light help keep me awake while Imani nurse. She be greedy at first, like she ain't had a bottle in years. Maybe it seem like years to her. Sometimes I don't know all what's inside her head, what she understand. I go to this class, though. It teach you more about a baby.

    My middle school counselor signed me up for it last spring after Imani was born and got her in the daycare. I like that. Having her close by all day. Knowing she just down on the first floor with the other babies. Mama say when she went to school, there wasn't no classes like them. There wasn't no nurseries in high schools. Maybe there should have been. Mama say you took care of your baby the best way you knew how. Mama say me and the other girls is spoiled. That is all. Plain and simple. We got things too easy.

    Most of the girls who got babies in the nursery take the class. They even got girls in there that is going to have babies. My friend Eboni going to have a baby. She barely seven months, but she look like she about ready to deliver.

    Me and Eboni sit together. Our seats right in the front of the room, and we don't like the teacher, Mrs. Poole. Her breath stink, flat out. That shouldn't make you not like a person, but it sure make them hard to listen to, especially when they be all up in your face. Mrs. Poole like that; she be all up in your face telling you how to wipe shit off a baby butt, and you can really imagine doing it because her breath smell like some shit you can't just wipe away with a moist towelette.

    Mrs. Poole the one told me about "establishing a routine" with Imani. She say babies like routines. They act better if they know what to expect. I believe that's true about Imani. She so smart, she learned her routine quick. But I don't know if all Mrs. Poole say true. Maybe it's because I be half-listening, because I'm trying to dodge her breath. Like she say, a baby bond with you, a baby bond with its mother. Mrs. Poole say a baby ain't born loving its mother. I swear that's what she say last week. I ask Eboni after school was that what she say, and Eboni say it was. Mrs. Poole say you got to teach a baby to love you. Now, I think that ain't even true. Imani was born loving me.

    The crazy thing was, I wasn't loving Imani all along. Loving her every minute because I was scared. Mama thought I was hiding Imani from her. It's just like Mama to think that. She only knew part of the truth. I was hiding her from myself. I didn't even know she was there inside my stomach until I missed my fourth period. Eboni say she knew before I even told her. We was in the same gym class, and Eboni say she could see my stomach growing.

    When I told her one day after gym was over, Eboni say she thought it might not be too late to get rid of it. Get rid of it? I ain't like the way that sound, like the baby was just going to be throwed out. I ain't want that and told Eboni so. She ask, What you want then? To give it away? I shook my head. Eboni put her arms around me, and you'd think that'd be enough to stop me from getting upset. But I went crazy crying and couldn't stop. The gym teacher come in and say I could go to the nurse, but I ain't want to go. I was thinking the nurse would look right at me and see I had a baby in me. Then she'd tell Mama. Then I'd get beat.

    My gym teacher let me and Eboni go in her office and stay there up until the next bell. She wrote a note saying I was hit in the head with a ball and was laying down for a period. I don't know what she wrote for Eboni. I wasn't crying no more when the bell rang. Wasn't no more tears. Eboni promised she wouldn't tell nobody, but she say I had to tell Mama. But I say I couldn't and she knew I couldn't. Mama'd say I been doing nasty things with boys. I'm not nasty.

    Sometimes I think Imani had a routine before she even come out of me. Every night she'd wake me up at just about this same time. She'd be moving around. I would hold my breath, keeping real still until she stopped. I was stupid enough to think she could punch a hole in my stomach and come right on out me. Maybe she just wanted to remind me she was in there, because I was doing my best to forget.

    Carrying her mostly through winter and into a Buffalo spring that's just like winter, I wore these big sweats. It wasn't hard to keep her a secret. My stomach never really poked out much, anyway. I just kept getting fatter from eating so much. I don't really like Mama's cooking, but I don't say that to her, because she'll say I'm ungrateful for all she do for me, and slap me.

    Mostly when I was carrying Imani, I'd go to Eboni's after school. Her mama, Miss Lovey, a good cook. I think Eboni told her about the baby. I ain't saying Eboni is the kind of loud-mouth girl who tell all your business. She ain't like one of them girls on the bus. You give them a bone on the way to school, and on the bus ride back, they done already showed it to every bitch they know and they all trying to get a lick off it.

    Miss Lovey ain't say nothing to me. She just pile my plate up real high with food, with liver and onions, lasagna loaded up with them hot Italian sausage, and her greens. They the best. She rinse her greens real good. Don't be nam grain of sand in them, and she cook them with two kinds of meat, ham hocks and bacon, and she season them just right, with hot sauce and vinegar. Thinking about them even now make my stomach flip.

    Miss Lovey ain't never ask me nothing about me having a baby. She would push a extra biscuit on my plate, pour me a big glass of buttermilk, slip a piece of fat meat on my plate she know I like. Sometimes she'd look at me with that look adults have, the one where they know you got a secret and they want you to tell them so they can slide into a seat next to you and pat your hand or rub your back while you spill your guts out to them.

    I looked right back at Miss Lovey when she looked at me like that. I give her that I-know-you-know-I-got-a-secret look, but I ain't going to say it. Why I got to say it when she already know what it was?

    Mama ain't even know about Imani until one morning when I ain't get up for school on time. I was all tired because Imani had kept me up kicking and moving around all night. I guess she was tired of being in me. And these cramps was pinching in my back. They was soft at first like my period was coming, but then they got harder. I finally took me three aspirins real late. I only got a hour of sleep by the time the alarm went off. It's right by my bed, so I shut it off, but I didn't get up. I should've like I do now with the routine. I should've let my feet hit the floor and start walking without me. It seem like I just closed my eyes when I heard Mama up. I looked at the clock. It was five minutes before the bus come. I thought I could make it if I wore the sweats I slept in and just wiped a rag over my face and run out the door. But my sweats was too funky so I started to change them when Mama opened my room door.

    I was standing there in my drawers. I didn't even have my bra on yet. I ain't say nothing. I ain't have to. My titties say it. They was as big as watermelons. My stomach say it. It was all stretched wide, spread out around my body. I know I looked ugly, even though I ain't looked at myself in a mirror in a long time. Not even on my birthday, the month before.

    I was fifteen on my birthday. I wasn't all that excited about turning fifteen. Fourteen neither. Last time I was excited about my birthday was when I turned thirteen and I was finally a teenager. They always be having them articles in Seventeen about how great it is to be old enough to wear makeup, how to dress for the prom, what twenty pieces of clothes you got to have to go back to school in the fall, how to tell if a boy like you. I ain't think I was going to look like them girls in there, all skinny and all, but I did think I might feel like them. Happy. And I was. We had a ice cream cake and subs delivered. Mama got me a card. The card say something about being a teenager now. It was a joke card with a white girl on the front talking on the phone, and a corny rhyme inside.

    I wasn't expecting nothing for my birthday this year. Mama just give me money last year, twenty dollars in my hand. So I wasn't looking forward to nothing great this year. What's so special about being fifteen? But what I ain't count on was Mama hitting the number. She did the Pick Four on my birth date. Month and year.

    Mama give me a real nice birthday. I would've liked it if she'd just turned the cable back on. But Mama went all out for me. She got me ice cream and a cake, a real bakery cake with candles on it. She let Eboni come over. We ordered a bucket of Buffalo wings and pizza with anything I wanted on it. I got double cheese, ham, pepperoni, and hot sausage. Miss Odetta come over, too. She June Bug mama.

    Eboni give me these gold earrings with my name on them. They not real gold. They that fake gold them Arabians be selling down in the Main Place Mall. The earrings nice, though. They ain't turn my ears green or make break out or nothing. Miss Odetta give me a card with twenty dollars in it. Mama give me a new pair of sneakers. Nikes. She paid some real money for them, or maybe she got them hot. I ain't ask. I needed some new kicks. My feet been growing, so I'm glad to have them. Mama give me a card, too.

    It had a black mama and girl on the front. The girl was little, sitting in her mama lap. On the front of the card was To my darling, beautiful daughter on her birthday. On the inside it didn't rhyme. It say, May all the joy in the world be with you on this very special day. It was signed Mama. I closed it real quick and stuffed it in my sneakers.

    Before I went to bed that night, I laced up my sneakers so I could show them off at school the next day. Then I did something I shouldn't have. I opened the card from Mama and read it again. I started crazy crying again, like I did that day at school.

    That card was lying on me. I wasn't none of those things it say I was. I didn't have to look at myself to know that, to know how ugly and broke-down I looked. All these stretch marks running crazy over me. For months they had been on my titties, on my stomach. It looked like I was going to crack open and something was going to come from inside me, not just the baby, but something else, like in a horror movie where there be monsters in people and they don't even know it.

    I hated Mama for buying that stupid card. At the same time I wanted to go to her that night and tell her everything. I was just so sick of trying to hide my baby. I figured maybe her heart might be soft, with it still being my birthday. But when I got up, I felt Imani kick me. It seemed like she was saying for me to shut up. It's not the right time. I couldn't shut up, though. So I lay down and pushed my face deep in the pillow.

    When I be crying crazy like that, all these strange noises be coming out my mouth. They be coming from deep inside me from a place I don't even know, from a place I don't even want to know. I stayed right in my bed until I quieted down all by myself, until when I opened my mouth ain't nothing come out but my breath.

    Who know, maybe I should've told Mama that night. I should've say something while my heart was soft, and maybe hers was soft, too. It would have been better that way, with me just saying it, flat out, instead of her seeing me like that the morning I was late for school.

    Mama ain't say nothing. She just flew right at me and slapped me in the face. I was too clumsy and slow to get out the way of her hand. Next, she punched me right in the titties. I put my hands up so she couldn't hit me no more, and I backed up and fell on the bed. Mama started asking me questions she ain't even give me time to answer, and every time she ask one, she slapped me again.

    What the hell wrong with you? What was you thinking about, doing this? Why you throw your life away? What you think your aunt going to think of you? What am I going to tell her? Why you ain't tell me? Why you ain't tell me? Why you ain't tell me?

    It was like Mama to think what I done was all about her, like I done something to her. I couldn't hardly tell myself, but I couldn't say that to Mama. That wouldn't make no sense to her, so I rolled over and put my back to her. I wasn't thinking about her so much as I was thinking about my baby. I had to protect my baby.

    That's why I think Mrs. Poole wrong with her stink breath. Because Imani loved me right then. I could feel it. I ain't have to wait for her to be born for her to love me. I ain't have to wait for her to be born to love her. She my baby.

    Mama kept on asking and slapping. Who the father? What nigger you had the baby with? What's his name?

    I ain't say nothing. I just curled myself up around my baby. I couldn't say his name to Mama. I couldn't even say it to myself.

    Finally she ask me, without a slap, You happy now? Then she let me alone. She wasn't getting nothing out of me. She left the room and I got up and dressed real quick. I'd missed my school bus, but I could still take the city bus and not miss all of first period. I was relieved it was over, that Mama knew. She ain't really hurt me. I just wanted to get to school.

    When I left the house, Mama was in her room. She ain't even come out, which was just fine with me. She was probably still sitting in there when the school nurse called her to tell her my water broke.

    I ain't even know what it was. I was in my second-period math class with Mr. Crowley. He this white man who's all sucked-up looking and he got these brown teeth all piled on top of each other. He don't never leave the overhead projector where he be scribbling out problems and they solutions.

I felt like I had to go to the bathroom real bad and I could hardly hold it. I was waving my hand real wild, but Mr. Crowley ain't even look at me. He was explaining how to turn fractions into decimals and decimals into fractions. He finally called on me after I called out his name, and ask me to solve the problem. I told him I had to go to the lavatory, and you know what he had the nerve to tell me? I couldn't go. He had already give out two lavatory passes. I swear, that's the craziest thing I ever heard. He only give two bathroom passes a period because he think we be trying to go to the bathroom just to miss class. Maybe that's all right for boys, but don't he know what girls be having to do in the lavatory sometimes? Don't he think we might need more than two passes during class? I wasn't stutting Mr. Crowley and his rules just then. I got up and headed for the door. Soon as I started walking, I was dripping. I could feel it. By the time I made it out the door, I was starting to gush, and the lavatory was way at the end of the hall. Mr. Crowley was right behind me. He seen it, too. My sweat pants was stained dark. I was so embarrassed. Mr. Crowley grabbed me by the shoulders and ask me if I was all right. I told him I want to go to the lavatory, but he say he was taking me to see the nurse. I think he knew the baby was coming. I ain't want to go, but I knew I should, so he walked with me leaning on him and told me everything would be fine, and I was thinking he was wishing he had just give me a lavatory pass when I ask for one.

    The nurse is this black lady. I had never even been in her office before, just past it. She called a ambulance. Then she phoned Mama and tell her to meet us at ECMC.

    That's the county hospital. Some people don't like it because it's the welfare hospital, but it's all right with me. I was born there.

    I wasn't really even scared until I heard the ambulance come up with that siren going. I ain't want to get in it, but the nurse say it was the best and safest way for me. She say she was going to be with me all the way. She was real calm. Her breath was even calm. It smelled like peppermint. She say she had three children and I would be fine. All the way to the hospital she sat next to me, patting my hand while the ambulance attendant ask me a bunch a questions about my prenatal care, how advanced my pregnancy was, when was my last period. I knew I ain't give the right answers by the way he was frowning.

    The cramps I had the night before was back. They was harder and longer. The nurse told me to breathe, like I wasn't breathing or something. She ask how bad the pain was. I told her it wasn't that bad, and it wasn't.

    Mama was there when I got to the hospital, looking real worried. I ain't know if she was worried because she hit me that morning and she thought these people would find out about it, or if she was really worried about me. When they wheeled me past her, I looked in her face. It looked like she was really worried about me. It looked like she been crying.

    They took me in this cold room and I was all naked. There was nothing but this sheet over me. Some nurse come in and give me a shot. This doctor come and stood over me. He was from some other country. I don't know where, but he had a funny accent. He say they was going to take the baby out of me, just to be safe. I tell him I could take the pain, but he say they want to be safe. You're just a child, he say to me.

    That's all I remember until after Imani was born. I don't know what they give me, but the next thing I know, it was dark outside and I was in this room with some other women with babies. Mama was sitting in a chair next to my bed, her arms folded on her chest, and she was staring at a television hung up on the wall. Jeopardy! was on. Mama ain't say nothing. She walked around the bed and took Imani out the little plastic crib they had her in. Mama handed her right to me.

    I ain't know what to do. I just stared at her, feeling how light she was, looking to see who was in her face. It was only me I seen there, and when she poked one of her hands out the blanket, I seen them flat fingers like mine. I smiled.

    Imani wasn't even her name then. Not official. It say Dawson, Girl on her ankle band. Eboni had give me that name. She got this baby book from a black card shop and it had that name in it. She was picking out names after she found out she was having a baby. She told me what Imani mean in some African language. Faith. I liked that.

    It seem like Mama want to say something to me, but she ain't know what to say. She say I could get some ice chips, but I ain't want them. She say she needed to go home. She was tired. I told her that was all right, she could go. I had Imani.

    Every time I go to Mrs. Poole class, I be learning more of what to do with Imani. I know that after the bottle, I got to burp her. Imani like that, I think. She like me patting her back. Her head be wobbling all around. I hold her head like Mrs. Poole say, but I think my baby just plain nosey. She be looking all around when I be burping her, even at two in the morning, like there's something to see.

    Just last week when we was up, Imani was looking around when she heard these gunshots. Then she got real still. It was like she was holding her breath. I couldn't feel no breath coming from her. All I could feel was her heart beating fast fast. Mrs. Poole done taught us how to do CPR, but all I could think to do was give her a good shake. I knew I ain't need to when she turned and looked at me like she had a question. I felt a breath come out of her then. Hot and wet in my face. I heard the shots, too. We was on the couch, but I stopped right then patting her back and got down on the floor. I don't even want to sound dramatic, like I dove down on the floor or something. They be shooting around here sometimes at night. But the shots sound like they did that night. Like they a few blocks over. They was still loud, so I slid off onto the floor. I ain't want to scare Imani.

    Mrs. Poole would probably say I'm crazy. Ain't no way a baby know what gunshots is. I ain't saying Imani knew, but that kind of scared me. After she let out a good burp, I laid Imani out on the floor and finished up the routine. I changed her diaper, wiped her off with one of them moist towelettes, and greased and powdered her butt. She got real pretty skin. She ain't had no diaper rash or nothing yet, and I'm going see to it she don't.

    Imani act like she still ain't want to go to sleep that night. She wasn't fussing or nothing, but I guess she wasn't ready to go on off to sleep. So I laid down on the floor and put her up on my chest.

    Mrs. Poole say that can calm a baby down. The baby hear your heart beating like when they was inside you. So I put her on my heart and sung her this song me and Eboni used to sing when we was girls. It's a hand-clapping song, but Imani can't do the clapping part yet, so I ain't do the clapping part. I don't know why I sung it, but it just come to my mind, and I sung it real soft. I sung it like a whisper.

Say, Say, Say--
I am a pretty little
Black girl
As pretty as pretty can
Be-e
And all the boys around my block are crazy over
Me-e
My boyfriend's name is
Sam-bo
He comes from A-la-
Bam-a
With a pickle on his nose and a cherry on his toes
That's why my story goes.
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Interviews & Essays

Question: Imani All Mine is set in Buffalo, New York. Is it a continuation of All-Bright Court?
Connie Porter: No, it isn't. Imani All Mine is a contemporary novel about Tasha Dawson, a teen mother struggling to raise her daughter, Imani. Tasha is living on the east side of Buffalo with her mother and Imani. Fifteen when the novel opens, Tasha has been told by Mama that she must assume total responsibility for raising Imani. Tasha does the best she can with Imani while still trying to stay on track to earn a regent's diploma and attempting to make sense of her neighborhood, which has changed dramatically since she was a young girl.
Some of the young men have begun dealing drugs. Even her next-door-neighbor, June Bug, a boy she grew up with, has become a crack dealer. Along with the dealers' presence has come an ever-increasing menace to Tasha's neighborhood: guns. It isn't uncommon for Tasha to hear sporadic gunfire at night, and she is aware of random shootings in which innocent people are killed.

Q: Why do you use the titles of children's songs to title your chapters?
CP: The song titles serve two purposes. First, they show how close to childhood Tasha still is. In many ways she is still a child. Part of what Tasha struggles with is a sense of duality. The songs of childhood speak of her past, of the simple and innocent time in her life. She would like to return to that girlhood, but that is not possible. Second, the songs speak about Tasha's current life, her adolescence, and, like this complex time, the meaning extends beyond the words of the song.
For example, in Chapter Two, "All in Together, Girls," Tasha meets a boy she likes while she and a group of her girlfriends are jumping rope to that song. For little girls, it is a song of unity, asking them to answer a call and join together. In the case of these adolescent girls, it is a song about how black teenage girls are often thrown together, how they are stereotyped by the larger society and sometimes by black society itself.

Q: Well, Tasha is a poor, black teenager with a baby. By making her all these things, isn't she a stereotype?
CP: Tasha is far from being a stereotype. Tasha's general description does fit that of thousands upon thousands of black girls, and that is partly the reason why I wrote this book. I feel there is an assumption that we do know them, know their stories, have heard their voices, and if we haven't, there isn't much to tell. Stereotypes are more powerful in our world than in the world of fiction. When used in fiction, it can provide a writer with a quick, superficial description of a character. When used in our world, it provides a way to dismiss the very particular lives of people, and I don't know how often we acknowledge its power.
I grew up very poor. I'm one of nine children who were raised in a housing project, went to public school and public universities. I feel truly blessed because of my upbringing. Never have I lost sight of the fact that as a child, because of my class and color, some people actually did stereotype me as doomed to fail.
I'm part of a mentoring program at an inner-city elementary school. Most of the children are raised by a single parent, and the number of parents who are substance abusers is high. I know there are some who would write off these kids, reduce their lives to the odds stacked against them, but when I see their faces each week, I can't. Like Tasha, like Imani, each of their lives is a complex story that stereotypes cannot begin to address.

Q: You have written for children and for adults; who do you see as being the audience for this book?
CP: I see this book as having a broad audience. When I've toured for my children's books, I was quite pleased to find that many mothers were reading my books along with their daughters. What some mothers told me was that they found themselves having serious conversations about the history of slavery, issues of race and prejudice, and the historical roles of women in the U.S. I'm talking about adults speaking with girls ages 7 through 12. White mothers would sometimes say to me that they lived in all-white neighborhoods and their children went to all-white schools, but they wanted to talk to their children about some of the issues I mentioned. They were grateful my book provided a starting point for the conversations they wanted and needed to have.
I see Imani All Mine as being a bridge, a way for adult women and adolescent women to have conversations about some issues women face. Tasha faces difficult challenges in her life, and sadly she doesn't turn to her mother enough. Sure, she loves her mother, and her mother loves her, but we all know it's common for teens to shut down and not always communicate with the women in their lives -- their mothers, aunts, grandmothers, even their older sisters.

Q: In recent years, you've had what might be called a moment of crisis. In 1993, one of your nieces was murdered at the age of 20 in a random shooting. You've dedicated this book to her and her siblings. Did her death change you, bring you closer to anybody?
CP: My niece Tia Porter was killed by a shot fired from an assault rifle, which went through the wall of her house. Tia and I were very close. Her mother died when Tia was 17, and I was a surrogate mother to her. I don't have any children, but I felt like I had lost a child of my own. Before Tia died, I had told her about a book I was working on. It was inspired by a murder that happened in Boston about seven years ago -- a young mother named Kimberly Harbor was killed; she died leaving behind a young child. Her death really touched me. She was a black young woman about my niece's age who was killed by young black men -- boys, really. They were all so young, and I wondered whether there was a reason for her death. I also wondered, when Kimberly's name stopped airing on the local news, who would remember her? What would be the measure of her life? That she was raped and then beaten to death? I knew there were many more young black women who died brutal and senseless and quickly forgotten deaths in this country, and I wanted to write a book about one of them, to have a book about her whole life and not just her death.
When I told Tia [what] I wanted to write about for my second novel, she told me she would never read it because it was going to be too sad. When Tia was killed, also leaving behind a young child -- an 18-month-old son -- I couldn't go on with the book in the way I had planned. There was still too much pain there, and no matter what, I felt people would think I was capitalizing on her death. I'm truly grateful to my editor, because once she came up with the idea for the voice of the book, I found a way to tell the story I wanted in an unexpected way.
I know I've been changed by my niece's death. I was talking to a friend the other day, and I told him I think God opens doors in people's lives. I don't mean that God causes tragedy, but I think he provides a way out if you choose to take it. You can choose to spend the rest of your life behind the open door, and if you do it is a choice. At one point after Tia was killed, that was where I chose to be. I couldn't think of her without crying. I couldn't write. I withdrew from friends and family. In that process I did come closer to someone. Myself.

Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Company

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2008

    Best Book Ever!

    This book is the BEST book that I have read in my whole entire life. It also taught me something. I actually understand what was goin on and I also could get a picture of everything that was happening.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2006

    Awesome

    This is deffenently my faverite book of all time!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2006

    Best Book Ever!!

    I LOVE this book. I've read it over 4 times. I can open this book whenever and read it from any point and it doesn't bore me a bit. This book is truly heart warming and inspiring. Everyone with a heart should read this. It will really move you.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2004

    It moved me!

    I read this book when I was in sixth grade and I have read it every year since. It moved me so much. I understood how she felt with me having my best friend go through almost the same thing. I recommend this book to any and everyone who loves to read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2003

    EXCELLENT

    I'm a tell you right now if you haven't read Imani All Mine you need to read it right now. I read that book in seventh grade and I finished it in a week(it usually takes me a month or so) but thats how good it was to me. That book will show you how it feels to have a baby at a young age. I felt sorry for Tasha and I cried. I think you'll cry too!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2002

    Outstanding

    Imani All Mine is a great book. I woulde recomend this book to all the teenagers who are doing the wrong things in their life by having unpretected sex or who want a baby at a young age. Teens you should read this book and see hoe hard it is to take care and love a child at a young age. I mainly dedicate this book to my sister. I love this book!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2003

    Very Excellent

    I think this book was very good! It opened me inside to know that a 15 year old girl can go through so much. I cried at the end because Tasha loved that baby so much and lost Imani. "Imani" means Faith and she had lots of Faith in her.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2002

    It moved me!!

    Imani all mine is an interesting book and shows whut happens to some teenages these days it moved me how she cared and loved imani so very much and how they had a bond with each other.And i cryed at the end i myself love children to read who imani was shot to death hurt me and i felt for tasha all and all imani is a great book and i say young teenage females readers will injoy this book,i did.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2001

    excellent, excellent, excellent

    i think this was a very good book, i think all teenagers need to read this book especially. i was in high school when i read it and it changed me and i started reading numerous of books. its straight to the point and very detailed. i actually cried in this book, which i dont do often.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2000

    ONE GREAT BOOK

    I really liked the book Imani All Mine. I think the book teaches kids that having a baby is hard work

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2000

    THE BEST EVER

    IMANI ALL MINE is the best book i have read so far i read when i was on the 7th grade and i love it i wouldnt mind reading it all over again

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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