Leaving Cecil Street

Leaving Cecil Street

4.4 16
by Diane McKinney-Whetstone

View All Available Formats & Editions

In one West Philadelphia neighborhood, families come together in celebration of unity and togetherness. Their block parties provide a union that serves as a backdrop for discovering the truth about themselves and the people they think they know.

Best friends Neet and Shay have depended on each other for most of their lives. However, their friendship will be


In one West Philadelphia neighborhood, families come together in celebration of unity and togetherness. Their block parties provide a union that serves as a backdrop for discovering the truth about themselves and the people they think they know.

Best friends Neet and Shay have depended on each other for most of their lives. However, their friendship will be tested when Neet becomes pregnant by one of the corner boys and Shay arranges an abortion that goes terribly wrong.

To Shay's horror, Neet is left unable to bear children and embraces her mother's esoteric yet sometimes impractical religious beliefs as punishment for her sins.

Meanwhile, Shay is left to struggle with her own growing maturity, the grief of losing a cherished friendship, and the disintegration of her parents' marriage. The two girls eventually choose their own separate paths.Leaving Cecil Street invokes those things that are most important — family, friendship, and love.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
It's been said that Diane McKinney-Whetstone writes "like Toni Morrison." That's not true. McKinney-Whetstone writes like herself. She creates a unique, believable black middle-class world where there are no villains -- just individuals trying their very best to get through life while inflicting minimum pain on each other, or themselves. — Carolyn See
Publishers Weekly
Wistful, melodious, contemplative, McKinney-Whetstone's prose feels inspired by the tenor sax central to this story. It's the summer of 1969 on Cecil Street in West Philadelphia, and "even though the block had long ago made the transition from white to colored to Negro to Black is Beautiful, the city still provided street cleaning twice a week in the summer when the children took to the outside and there was the familiar smack, smack of the double-Dutch rope." Neet and Shay, 17-year-old neighbors, are as close as that double rope, and when Neet's illegal abortion goes terribly wrong, Shay is distraught-especially since the procedure had been her idea. Shay's father, Joe, offers tender, paternal wisdom: "Be sad 'cause your best friend is going through a trauma right now, that's a clean, honest sadness. Don't dirty it up with a bunch of guilt that you choosing to feel." Dealing with his own sadness and guilt is harder. Joe loves his wife, Louise, but giving up the sax soon after they married turned out to be a bigger sacrifice than he realized, and getting straight with himself is a moral, sexual, musical adventure. McKinney-Whetstone's fourth novel (after 1999's Blues Dancing) is remarkable for the rich development of all its characters, notably Neet's mother, Alberta. She first appears as a bleak woman who torments Neet with a cruel religiosity, but her backstory of forced prostitution reveals more about her; her final sacrifice redeems her. Meanwhile, Deucie, the mother who abandoned Alberta, has sneaked into Joe and Louise's cellar to die. Joe plays his sax, harmoniously connecting and resolving the separate story lines. Agent, Suzanne Gluck. (Apr. 1) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Cecil Street is a quiet, tree-lined haven in West Philadelphia, a place where everyone knows everyone else, a place removed from the turmoil and violence of the late 1960s. Yet the residents of Cecil Street have their problems. Joe and Louise's marriage is strained; Johnetta's sexy niece has arrived, ripe for trouble; and teenaged Shay tries to help best friend Neet deal with an unwanted pregnancy. When Neet's abortion goes tragically wrong, everyone on the street must rally around her, while Joe, Louise, and Neet's mother, Alberta, discover how their pasts have now drawn them together. McKinney-Whetstone's portrayal of African American family life is sensitive and compassionate, with characters who love, work, live, and die without veering into soap opera. As in her previous novels (e.g., Tumbling), ordinary people find a strength in themselves and others that enables them to live and love more fully. Recommended for all public libraries.-Ellen Flexman, Indianapolis-Marion Cty. P.L. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Joe and Louise and their 17-year-old daughter, Shay, are a well-respected family in a close-knit, working-class, black neighborhood of Philadelphia in 1969. Joe is a frustrated jazz saxophonist who gave up his musical career to please his stern and domineering wife early in their relationship, but now he rebels in quiet ways-such as having an affair with a beautiful newcomer to Cecil Street. They live next door to Shay's friend Neet, whose mother, Alberta, is a devoted follower of an extremist religion. The woman tries to make Neet conform to her strict lifestyle, but her emotionally scarred daughter sneaks out of the house regularly. When she ends up pregnant, she decides to abort the baby. Since abortions are not yet legal, Neet falls victim to a botched job by another teen. The author sensitively depicts this traumatic event, as well as pivotal events in other characters' lives that explain the complex, secret, and often painful connections among them. This richly poetic novel offers a vivid depiction of urban life during the early post-civil-rights era. The theme of how abortion rights (or the lack thereof) can impact the lives of teens could serve as a journal-writing prompt. Some students may also benefit from reading about how these characters struggle through sexual molestation or the death of a beloved parent, yet eventually heal. Students who liked Tumbling (Morrow, 1996) will find this story compelling.-Joyce Fay Fletcher, Rippon Middle School, Prince William County, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A West Philly block in 1969. Joe, a talented musician who now plays his saxophone in the basement, where no one can hear him, is drifting apart from his wife Louise, a nurse. He'd love to get that old feeling back, but she can't think of anything except how much her gums hurt. Joe can't help being drawn to the country-girl succulence of young Valadean, a friend's niece. Not that he has any intention of his daughter Shay finding out: Shay's always been a daddy's girl, warmhearted and sweet. If only she could protect her best friend Neet from the sanctimonious meanness of her mother. But Alberta, their next-door neighbor, is so saved, can't nobody stand her. The teenage girls hang out, flirt, go too far with boys-and Neet pays for her sins when her illegal abortion is badly bungled by the abortionist's assistant and she barely survives a severe hemorrhage. The Cecil Street neighborhood closes ranks to protect the girls (and the abortionist) from the police. Some of this is heard though not understood by an old homeless woman, Deucie, hiding in Joe's basement. Deucie-she lives on the cat food Joe sets out-eavesdrops when she's not lost in memory of the prostitution, poverty, and violence that shattered her fragile sanity. Dying of cirrhosis of the liver, she is determined somehow to find the child she was forced to give up decades ago-when, in a fit of crazed grief, she marked the infant by biting it on the forehead. One of these characters still bears the scar, and what was lost will be found again, though in a somewhat improbable denouement. Heartfelt fourth from McKinney-Whetstone (Blues Dancing, 1999, etc.), who has a true talent for strong characters, effortlessly natural dialogue, andprose that flows.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
P.S. Series
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 10.92(h) x 0.73(d)
Age Range:
14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Leaving Cecil Street

By McKinney-Whetstone, Diane

William Morrow & Company

ISBN: 0688163858

Chapter One

Cecil street was feeling some kind of way in 1969. Safely tucked away in the heart of West Philadelphia, this had always been a charmed block. A pleasure to walk through the way the trees lined the street from end to end and made arcs when they were in full leaf. The outsides of the houses stayed in good repair, with unchipped banister posts and porches mopped down daily because the people here sat out a lot, their soothing chatter jumping the banisters from end to end about how the numbers had come that day or what had happened on The Edge of Night. And even though the block had long ago made the transition from white to colored to Negro to Black Is Beautiful, the city still provided street cleaning twice a week in the summer when the children took to the outside and there was the familiar smack, smack of the double-Dutch rope. The sound was a predictable comfort. Like the sounds of the Corner Boys, a mildly delinquent lot consumed with pilfering Kool cigarettes or the feel of a virgin girl's behind. But as soon as Walter Cronkite signed off for the night, the Corner Boys put their voices together in a cappella harmonies that rushed this stretch of Cecil and felt like a new religion. They sang nice settling-down tunes about love and the blues. Sang as the bowls of chicken and dumplings or pans of corn bread or whatever somebody had cooked too much of were passed up and down the block. Sang while the teenagers gathered on steps under the street lamps to plait each other's hair so that their 'fros would grow out thick and full. Sang while the women who hadn't yet made the leap to the African bush put hot combs on the stove to touch up their edges for the next day. Stirred up a good nighttime mood on the block when they sang.

But now Cecil Street had a new mood working, a fire-in-the-belly feeling about bad to come. Horrible enough that Martin had been assassinated last year, but in March the wrong cracker pled guilty, they believed. The government is the cracker should be on trial, they maintained as they hosed down their fronts of the dripped Popsicle juice. Then the undeclared war was threatening to take down as many of the young black men as the heroin that some swore was being pushed in their neighborhood by the CIA. Then the milkman stopped delivering around here, and Sonny went up on his hoagies by twenty cents. Then Tim, who owned the barbershop on the corner and the apartment above it that he regularly loaned out for the pleasure takings of his married men friends, was almost stomped to death under the el stop when the police mistook him for someone who'd robbed the PSFS with a water gun. Then BB, who worked in the shadows of her back bedroom freeing the women who'd gotten caught when their diaphragms or rhythm methods failed, had her purse snatched on Sixtieth Street; she 'd just performed back-to-back procedures and was on her way to buy two hundred dollars' worth of money orders to send to her mother down south who was raising BB's severely retarded child. The market two blocks over started disrespecting the hardworking homeowners around here by keeping dirty floors and wilted lettuce and day-old bread. And now this: the tree in front of Joe and Louise's house died.

It was the summer of '69 and Joe missed that tree. Missed it so much that he put awnings out front to try and duplicate its shade. Generally upbeat, Joe felt sad about the tree right now as he stood on his porch at two in the morning, shocked again by the sight of the stump where the tree should be. Felt sad generally right now even though this was the night that his close-knit block of Cecil Street had opened itself up for the annual block party and Joe had even danced in the street earlier to "Boogaloo Down Broadway." He reasoned he was absorbing what the rest of the block seemed to be feeling lately, edgy and discontented, otherwise he had no explanation for why, now, he was out on his porch at two in the morning lifting up the square of the porch floor that led to his cellar. He hadn't been down in the cellar since the spring, but he pushed through the dust and mold and spiderwebs down there -- and the darkness. He 'd forgotten about the short in the light. His hand went instinctively to his shirt pocket for matches to give himself a spark to see by. Remembered now no shirt pocket because he was wearing a dashiki. Didn't usually wear dashikis but had worn one for the block party, worn it also hoping to impress the young woman Valadean, up here for the summer visiting relatives across the street. "Who you supposed to be, Super Black Jack?" his wife, Louise, had remarked when she'd seen him in the dashiki.

He stretched his arms through the black air in the cellar, trying to feel his way so that he wouldn't collide full body into what he could not see. Couldn't see, stacked along the wall, the boxes that should have gone to Goodwill the month the light went, couldn't see the milk crates filled with his teenage daughter's outgrown toys; couldn't even see the oil heater that took up a quarter of the wall. Nor could he see the puffy-haired, naked woman making herselfgo flat against the wall, between the toys and the heater.

Deucie Powell. She wasn't from this part of Philly. She had turned onto Cecil Street earlier looking for her grown daughter's house, wanted to reintroduce herself to her daughter after a gulf of seventeen years. Wanted to reclaim her. But she 'd gotten disoriented by the block party and ended up naked in this cellar ...


Excerpted from Leaving Cecil Street by McKinney-Whetstone, Diane 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

The author of the critically acclaimed novels Tumbling, Tempest Rising, Blues Dancing, Leaving Cecil Street, and Trading Dreams at Midnight, Diane McKinney-Whetstone is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Black Caucus of the American Library Association’s Literary Award for Fiction, which she won twice. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband. For more on Diane McKinney-Whetstone please visit www.mckinney-whetstone.com or follow her on Twitter @Dianemckwh.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Leaving Cecil Street 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a West Philadelphian, I enjoyed this book tremendously. While reading this book, I could picture every landmark to which the author was referring. I have also experienced the love of the close knit 'Block-Family', and I also remember the block parties. The plot was exciting. I became involved with each character's dilemma and reveled in their triumph.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading Blues Dancing I knew she was a great author, but I just finshed Leaving Cecil Street and I have to now say that Diane McKinney-Whetstone is one of my favorite authors. Leaving Cecil Street is a great book. Being a avid reader I have realized that it's hard to find authors who know how to nitch a story together. This books gives me a glimpse of history and it shows you how 'the good days' use to be when everyone looked out for each other on 'The Block' and how actually all of our lives entertwine in one way or another. This book is a must read. This is the fourth book that I have read so far this summer and I must say discourgment set in for a moment because the other authors writings were missing something. But as soon as I picked up this book I realized what they were missing. And that was a way to weave words together to keep the reader wanting more.Plus Diane knows how to make words make scenes in the readers mind. I did not want the book to end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
1969 was a tumultuous time for blacks in America. Black leaders such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King had been assassinated after leading the battle for civil rights. Hippies roamed the streets preaching free love; and the ¿black is beautiful¿ movement was in full effect. And though there were troubles and hard times, there were still neighborhoods where folks treated either other decently, almost like family. Next-door neighbors spanked your kids for you when you were away. Block parties brought people together. Even funerals brought out the love in others in the form of repasts, where neighbors cooked all kinds of food in hopes of bringing your spirits up.............. ¿Leaving Cecil Street¿ captures all of the above and then some. The new novel from the author of Tumbling, Tempest Rising, and Blues Dancing tells the story of the goings on of two families who live next door to one another in West Philadelphia. This includes Joe, a horn-playing lover of both jazz music and women who can¿t seem to keep his hands off the latter even though he is married. Louise, his wife, is a wife and mother who refuses to see a dentist, even though half the teeth in her mouth are rotten. Shay is their Afro-wearing teenage daughter whose best friend lives next door. Bonita (Neet) is Shay¿s best friend for life. And Alberta is the church-going, mean-spirited mother of Neet who has a secret past. Then there¿s Deucie, a strange and dying woman looking for her lost daughter who takes up residency in Joe and Louise¿s basement during a block party without their knowledge......................... The story centers on what happens with both families before and after Neet¿s pregnancy and subsequent, illegal abortion (described with shocking and incredible detail). After this tragedy is revealed, it affects the entire neighborhood, especially the next-door neighbors and their relationships with each other. Before the story ends, the past will be remembered, secrets will be revealed and life-altering decisions will be made...................... ¿Leaving Cecil Street¿ is a moving and enchanting work of art from Diane McKinney-Whetstone. Not only is the author an expert in crafting a masterful plot but the fine-tuned writing shows a clear love of the language, a skill lots of writers lack. The book invokes the spirit of works from The Harlem Renaissance era. You can almost hear the likes of Langston and Zora kindly nudging the author on. This book is a must read for everyone.
Anonymous 4 months ago
Such a moving story love and trust and tht secrets we keep. Very descriptive and creates lovely visuals. I wished I' lived on Cecil street after reading it. It's a wonderful read for sure. My first of her books but I've read just about all of them now.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Leaving Cecil street is captivating from begining to the twist at the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mzdooly More than 1 year ago
This book is a page turner. Interesting storyline, the characters were amazing and interesting. I also felt the storyline was juicy and exciting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Brownbutterflies More than 1 year ago
This book was so hard to put down. It starts getting good right from the first few pages. You will be so engaged with the characters and there will be at least one or two with which you will personally identify with. This book is an AWESOME read. Get it!!!!
jazzlover320 More than 1 year ago
Reading "Leaving Cecil Street" was a pleasant surprise, considering it had been on my shelf well over 2 years!!! I honestly didn't expect it to be that good...once again I underestimated Mrs. McKinney-Whetstone. This author has such a gift of storytelling. The main characters stick with you long after you've finished. Her depiction of this neighborhood is so real it literally came to life. What I admire most is that Mrs. Mckinney-Whetstone is not afraid to show the human side of her characters...they actually feel like real people!! The ending leaves you wanting more however but that's just as good because you can't get enough!!! Let's pray she writes a seque!!!! GREAT READ!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Once again, an amazingly told story, I wait anxiously for anything written by this author. I think she is the most gifted of writers! All the characters in Leaving Cecil Street were woven together in true art form!
Guest More than 1 year ago
In a word, WOW! I would say more... but I would tell what you need to experience. Get this book, no, wait, get ALL OF HER BOOKS. Diane Mckinney-Whetstone has become my favorite Author! She is second to none! BRAVO! BRAVO!
Guest More than 1 year ago
leaving cecil was just that flawless and flowing. i would have like a more sewn together ending. it leaves room for a sequel (hint) but none the less i could not put this book down and when i did i looked forward to picking it up again when i was alone so i could 'go to cecil street.'