Perfect Peace

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Overview

Daniel Black's Perfect Peace is the heartbreaking portrait of a large, rural southern family’s attempt to grapple with their mother’s desperate decision to make her newborn son into the daughter she will never have

When the seventh child of the Peace family, named Perfect, turns eight, her mother Emma Jean tells her bewildered daughter, “You was born a boy. I made you a girl. But that ain’t what you was supposed to be. So, from now on, you gon’ be a boy. It’ll be a little ...

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Perfect Peace: A Novel

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Overview

Daniel Black's Perfect Peace is the heartbreaking portrait of a large, rural southern family’s attempt to grapple with their mother’s desperate decision to make her newborn son into the daughter she will never have

When the seventh child of the Peace family, named Perfect, turns eight, her mother Emma Jean tells her bewildered daughter, “You was born a boy. I made you a girl. But that ain’t what you was supposed to be. So, from now on, you gon’ be a boy. It’ll be a little strange at first, but you’ll get used to it, and this’ll be over after while.” From this point forward, his life becomes a bizarre kaleidoscope of events. Meanwhile, the Peace family is forced to question everything they thought they knew about gender, sexuality, unconditional love, and fulfillment.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A high-spirited, compassionate look at everyone's longings for perfection, both inside and out.”—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Black effortlessly conveys Paul's agony over his inner shame and what the world sees on the outside. It's painful to see how his father also struggles to accept as a son the child he had once adored as a girl. For the Peace family, the end of Perfect is akin to the death of a loved one.”— San Antonio Express-News

“Daniel Black understands the racial psychology and culture of the South so well that he can show, not tell, and his characters’ actions always ring true. This novel is a powerful exploration of a small group of individuals who hold each other in high regard. The love among members of this family is severely challenged, but the challenge is triumphantly met. Each child grows to manhood and achieves success according to his gifts. Through their lives we experience disappointment and sorrow, but also fulfillment and joy. Perfect Peace is an intense and satisfying read.” 

 —Greg Iles, New York Times bestselling author of The Devil's Punchbowl

 

“Daniel Black writes of growing up in a small town with humor, grace and forgiveness.” —Adriana Trigiani, New York Times bestselling author of Very Valentine and the Big Stone Gap Series

 

“Craft is not the word for this joyfully inscribed novel. The proper word is art. The book is a brave and complicated story perfectly told. Mr. Black offers a cultural gift to be welcomed.”

Houston A. Baker, Jr., author of American Book Award winning Betrayal: How Black Intellectuals have abandoned the Ideals of the Civil Rights Era.

"Perfect Peace is a morality tale of the consequences of letting our selfish needs trap the ones we love into roles they weren't born to play. The characters here are as flawed, their sins numerous, as any living human being held under the lens, but the author brings a compassion and understanding to their plights." —Mat Johnson, award-winning author of Incognegro, Drop, and Hunting in Harlem  

"Daniel Black has pried open the isolated lives of rural southerners, allowing us to peek inside. To understand the complexities of the southern experience, read Perfect Peace.”

 —Dr. Karyn Lacy, professor of Sociology, University of Michigan, author of Blue Chip Black: Race, Class, and Status in the New Black Middle Class

"Mr. Black’s novel nudges our sense of awareness and accountability.  His narrative eloquently poses difficult questions with disarming kindness:  ‘Do you know who you are?  Do you know what you do?  Do you know that there is never an excuse?’ The relevance of this work with regard to all we are and all we do far exceeds his adroitly simple telling of the tale."

—Keith Hamilton Cobb, actor

“Part cautionary tale, part folk tale, part fable, Daniel Black's Perfect Peace is a complete triumph.  It bursts with emotions as intense as opera.  Perfect Peace will bring you to tears and laughter.  You will recognize characters from your own life, and perhaps even recognize yourself.  In Emma Jean Peace, a mid-20th-Century rural Southern black woman who wants a daughter so desperately that she raises her infant son as a girl, Dr. Black has created a character as complex, equivocal and unforgettable as Scarlett O'Hara.”

Larry Duplechan, author of Blackbird, Captain Swing, and the Lambda Literary Award-winning Got 'Til It's Gone

Publishers Weekly
Black (The Sacred Place) explores the fateful decision of Emma Jean Peace to raise her seventh son, Perfect, as the daughter she has always wanted. Her plan, nutty as it is, works out until Perfect is eight years old and his blind older brother, Bartimaeus, makes an innocent discovery about his sister's body. Soon after, Perfect's friends begin talk of womanhood, prompting Emma Jean to reveal to Perfect the truth. So begins an education for Perfect—rechristened Paul—on manhood while his small Arkansas town casts an unforgiving eye on its newest curiosity. While the rural South backdrop is overly familiar and the dialogue is painfully hoary (“What chu talkin' 'bout, Emma Jean?”), Black manages a nuanced exploration of sexual identity and social structures without elevating his characters to angels or martyrs. (Mar.)
Library Journal
In his third novel, Black revisits the small Arkansas town of Swamp Creek, also the setting of They Tell Me of a Home. This is the heartbreaking tale of Perfect, the seventh child born to Gustavus and Emma-Jean Peace in 1941. What should be a joyous occasion is clouded by Gus's conflict over having another mouth to feed. And Emma-Jean has an overwhelming desire to have a girl after giving birth to six boys. Deciding to deceive her family and others, Emma-Jean makes the decision to raise Perfect, born a boy, as a girl for the first eight years of his life. When circumstances force her to reveal the truth, everyone involved has to grapple with the consequences. VERDICT Black courageously delves into such sensitive issues such as sexuality, racism, and family dynamics and enchants readers with strong pacing and Southern imagery. Those who enjoy rich and complex works of literary fiction will be provoked to discuss this novel's many layers.—Lisa Jones, Birmingham P.L., AL
Kirkus Reviews
The author returns to the Arkansas setting of They Tell Me of a Home (2005). It's 1941, and Gustavus and Emma Jean Peace have just had their seventh child. Gus had hoped to be through having babies. Emma Jean-disappointed with six boys-is determined to try one last time for a girl. When God doesn't give her a daughter, she decides to make one herself. Naming the new baby "Perfect" and blackmailing the midwife to aid her in her desperate deception, Emma Jean announces the birth of a girl. For eight years, Emma Jean outfits her youngest child in pretty dresses, gives her all the indulgences she longed for in her own blighted girlhood and hides the truth from everyone-even herself. But when the truth comes out, Emma Jean is a pariah and her most-treasured child becomes a freak. It's hard to know quite what to make of this impassioned, imperfect novel. While another writer might have chosen to complement the sensationalism of his scenario with a tempered style, Black narrates his tale in the key of melodrama. He devotes a considerable number of pages to Emma Jean's experience as the unloved, darker (and therefore ugly) daughter, but since no amount of back story can justify Emma-Jean's actions, these passages become redundant. And, most crucially, Black builds toward the point when Perfect discovers that she's a boy, but seems confused about what to do with his character after this astonishing revelation. At the same time, the author offers a nuanced portrait of an insular community's capacity to absorb difference, and it's a cold reader who will be unmoved by his depictions. Original and earnest, informed both by human limitation and human potential.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312571658
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 12/6/2011
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 167,358
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

DANIEL OMOTOSHO BLACK teaches at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia. He earned a Ph.D. in African American Studies from Temple University then returned to Clark Atlanta as a professor with hopes of inspiring young black minds to believe in themselves.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Gus stood beside the living room window, waiting for the annual spring rains. They should have come by now, he noted, glancing at the battered Motley Funeral Home calendar hanging from a nail on the wall. It was May 17, 1940, and Gus’s wilted crops made him wonder if, somehow, he had angered Mother Nature. Usually the rains came between March and April, freeing him to hunt or fish the latter part of spring while cabbage, collard, and tomato sprouts strengthened in the moistened earth. That year, the stubborn rains prolonged the daily sojourn Gus and the boys took to the river and back—locals called it the Jordan—carrying five-gallon buckets of water for both their own and the sprouts’ survival.

Gus loved the rains. As a child, he lay in bed listening to the thunderous polyrhythms they drummed into the rusted tin rooftop. Something about the melody soothed his somber soul and allowed him to cry without fear of his father’s reprisal. After all, he was a boy, Chester Peace Sr. loved to remind him—as though his genitalia didn’t—and tears didn’t speak well for one who would, one day, become a man. The indelible imprint of Chester Sr.’s inordinately large hand on Gus’s tender face whenever he wept never bothered the boy who, in his heart, wanted nothing more desperately than to emulate his father. But as he grew, he never learned to control his tears. He learned instead to hide whenever he felt their approach.

The rains awakened something in him. Maybe it was their steady flow that eroded his makeshift stoicism and caused water to gush from his eyes as if from a geyser. What ever the connection, Gus always wept along with the rains. He’d convinced himself that the sky, like him, was cursed with a heavy heart that required annual purging. So every spring since his tenth birthday, when the scent of moisture filled his nose he escaped to the Jordan River and stood amid the rain, wailing away pain like a woman in labor. Whether it lasted for hours or even a day, no one expected his return to normalcy until the showers subsided.

Gus was grateful others didn’t ask why he cried, because he couldn’t have explained it. Had he known words like "injustice" or "inequity" he might’ve been able to translate his feelings into words, but with a third-grade vocabulary, such articulation was out of the question. All he knew was that he cried when things weren’t right. He wept as a child when other children mocked his holey shoes, and then he wept when God refused to grant him the courage and the will to fight. He wept for mother birds that couldn’t find worms for their young. He wept for cows left freezing in the snow. He wept for Miss Mazie—the woman whose husband slashed her with a butcher’s mallet for talking back—and wept even harder when he overheard that they put the man away. Most of all he wept because he thought people in the world didn’t care.

His hardest days were between the rains. At the most inopportune moments, in the middle of the summer or the bitter cold of winter, he’d witness a wrong and water would ooze, unannounced, across his cheeks and he’d be forced to retreat into some private place where his tears wouldn’t be cause for ridicule. Yet these momentary cleansings never resulted in Gus’s complete healing. Only the annual spring rains set his heart aright again, so, after the third grade—the end of Gus’s formal education—he began anticipating the rains’ arrival. As soon as the first buds bloomed, he’d watch the heavens for signs of inclement weather, and when the dark clouds gathered, he’d run to the Jordan and welcome the downpour. After 1910, locals noted the beginning of spring when they heard Gus wailing in the distance and, whether out of fear or simple disinterest, no one bothered traveling to the riverbank to see exactly what Gustavus Peace was doing, much less why.

He needed the rains of 1940 worse than he’d ever needed them, for the impending birth of his seventh child—the only one he had never wanted—incited rage he feared he couldn’t restrain. Yet the rains wouldn’t come. Each morning he jumped from his sleeping pallet on the floor, sniffing the air like a Labrador retriever, hoping to smell the sweet scent of moisture, only to be disappointed when his nostrils inhaled particles of dry, pungent, red dust. Having never mentioned to his wife, Emma Jean, that he felt deceived by the pregnancy, Gus had waited since her ecstatic November announcement to unleash with the spring rains instead of strangling her. His greatest fear now was that an overflowing heart would cause him to crumble before his sons. Each day, his eyes glazed over and his hands began to tremble, and he cursed the rains for seemingly having abandoned him. So far, he had remained composed, but he knew he wouldn’t last much longer.

When Emma Jean screamed, Gus released the curtain, turned from the window, and looked toward their bedroom. It was really her bedroom, he thought, for he had slept on the floor since learning of her pregnancy. He liked it that way. It kept him from touching her and creating another mouth to feed. He wouldn’t have touched her this last time had Emma Jean not convinced him that she couldn’t have any more children. Gus asked why, and Emma Jean said that she was going through the change. He didn’t know exactly what that meant, but he took her at her word. The day she confessed her pregnancy, Gus nodded and promised in his heart never to touch her again. That would keep the children from coming, he reasoned, and that was exactly what he wanted.

"Push!" Henrietta coaxed with her hands cupped around the wet, slimy crown of the baby’s head.

Beads of sweat danced across Emma Jean’s shiny black forehead as she panted. With borrowed might, she clutched the sheets on which she lay and bellowed, "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" tossing her head from one edge of the pillow to the other. "Oh my God! I thought havin’ a girl"—breath—"would be easier than havin’ them big, knucklehead boys."

Henrietta chuckled. She had delivered almost every child in Conway County, Arkansas, since the 1920s, and if nothing else, she had learned that a baby’s gender could never be predicted. "This might be another boy, Emma," she warned softly. "Don’t get yo’ hopes up too high. Plenty women think they havin’ one thing and have somethin’ else. Now breathe and push again."

Emma Jean sighed, refusing to relinquish hope that she was finally birthing the daughter she’d always wanted. That hope lent her strength to push again. "AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" she growled, exposing the rich, deep alto for which folks at St. Matthew No. 3 Baptist Church were grateful. It was this voice that had caught Gus’s attention years ago, teasing his soul one Easter Sunday morning with a rendition of "He Rose" that left him tingling inside. He called the feeling love and asked Emma Jean to marry him. That was fifteen years ago. Back when he was a fool, he always said.

"It won’t be long now!" Henrietta encouraged. "Just a few more pushes and we’ll have ourselves another baby."

Emma Jean gripped the iron bars of the headpost and stared at the ceiling, delirious. She wanted to push again, but couldn’t find the strength. In the meantime, she wondered if Gus had decided upon a name, since he hadn’t liked any of her choices.

"What about Rose?" she’d posed one night, leaning over the edge of the bed.

Gus grunted something unintelligible and pulled the battered quilt over his head.

Emma Jean interpreted the response as a no. "Then what about Violet? Or maybe Priscilla?"

Too sleepy to care, Gus hoped his words would close the matter. "Them don’t sound like no colored girls’ names to me," he murmured. "And, anyway, it’s probably gon’ be a boy, the luck we been havin’."

Emma Jean scoffed. "Just ’cause a girl be colored don’t mean she gotta have no ole, tired, country-soundin’ name."

Gus peeked from beneath the quilt. "You got one."

"I know!" Emma Jean shouted. "But that don’t mean my baby gotta have one."

"Well, it don’t make no difference right now noway. The baby ain’t even here yet. Good night."

Emma Jean stopped discussing names with Gus. Why, she wondered, had she consulted a fool in the first place? What would a man know about choosing a baby’s name?

"I got de head in my hands," Henrietta said excitedly. "Just give me one more good push! Come on! You can do it!"

The dance of the sweat beads devolved into a slow waltz around Emma Jean’s thick brows as she lay exhausted upon the feather pillow. Her good, baby blue sheets, which she had intended to remove from the bed in a few days, would now have to be discarded. Thinking she had at least another week before the baby’s arrival, she had prioritized other more immediate chores, but when her water broke while she was preparing Sunday breakfast, she knew those sheets were history.

Gus and the boys sat in the small living room and waited. Knowing no other way to pass the time, Gus read passages from the Bible—the few he could read—in hopes that something from the Word might still his rumbling heart. He would love the baby, he resolved, but he would never forgive Emma Jean. Never. And if the rains didn’t come, he wouldn’t forgive them, either.

Still in their church clothes, which was a clean shirt beneath their work overalls, the boys anticipated the sister they didn’t have. Of course another brother would be okay, they agreed silently, but a sister would add spice to an otherwise dull house hold. Mister, the youngest brother, didn’t care either way. He simply wanted someone else to be the baby of the family.

"What if it’s a boy?" Mister asked.

"Shut up, will ya?" Authorly insisted. "If it’s a boy, then it’s a boy. That’s all. And if it’s a girl, then it’s a girl. Jes’ be quiet ’til we know."

Mister grimaced and stuck out his tongue. He hated his brother’s uncensored authority. Why don’t you shut up! he almost said, but didn’t. One day he would say it, he swore, but for now he held his peace.

Everyone assumed Authorly the eldest, but James Earl was fourteen months his senior. No one had ever heard James Earl speak more than a passive phrase or two a day, so they deemed him far too timid to lead a pack of six brothers. Authorly’s muscular disposition and loquacious tongue, on the other hand, granted him the position of eldership among the boys, causing the others to wonder at times if he perceived himself their father instead of their brother. Having no resolve to challenge him, the others obeyed Authorly, calling him names behind his back whenever he infuriated them. Even James Earl acquiesced, yielding his obedience as an offering of gratitude for Authorly’s willingness to lead. Locals called James Earl "slow"—some said "retarded," others said "off"—and wondered what woman would ever tolerate such a puny, no-count man.

"You sho dat boy all right?" Miss Mamie Cunningham sneered, watching six-year-old James Earl stumble down the church steps.

"He’s perfectly fine," Emma Jean huffed. "He just in his own world."

"And he in it by hisself, too!"

Kiss my ass, Emma Jean wanted to say, then remembered that Miss Mamie was twice her age. Anyway, it was true that James Earl was a bit different, she had to admit. He weighed only four pounds at birth, and once Gus scribbled his name and birth date—

James Earl Peace, June 13, 1928

— in the huge white family Bible resting on the sofa end table, Henrietta guaranteed he wouldn’t survive. But he did. He didn’t eat much, but he kept on living. Emma Jean forced her nipple in his mouth every three or four hours, but, most days, James Earl lay in her arms like a corpse, seemingly unable to discern what to do. Usually once a day for ten minutes or so he’d suckle and whine like a sick puppy, and Emma Jean would cry as she prepared to wake any day and find him stiff as a board. But he just wouldn’t die. He was three before he took a step and four before he said a word. At five, he began eating solid food, so Emma Jean gave thanks for his life and stopped worrying.

The day Authorly came, Gus half-read a flyer at Morrison’s General Store announcing the release of a book some author had written. Mistaking "author" for the writer’s name and unable to distinguish phonetically between "author" and "Arthur," Gus exited the store proud he could spell the first half of a name he liked. Walking home, he discovered he couldn’t spell the other half. He knew it started with an L—he had learned his consonant sounds well—but Le didn’t look right in his mind. Trying to recall other names with the E sound, he said several aloud until he stumbled upon the final sound in his mother’s name. "Lucy," he mumbled. "The Y must be the E sound," he decided, sticking out his chest as he visualized the entirety of his second son’s name. Afraid he might forget some of the letters, he scratched the name on the Sheetrocked wall of the Peace living room the moment he arrived. When Henrietta announced that Emma Jean had had another boy, this one damn near ten pounds, Gus said his name would be Authorly. He pointed to the childlike letters on the wall as he copied the name, one letter at a time, into the family Bible.

Authorly Peace, August 23, 1929

Henrietta smiled. Not having the heart to correct his spelling, she simply nodded as Gus’s pride multiplied. Whenever Authorly felt the need, he referred his brothers to the inscription on the wall as evidence that his coming was obviously divine since none of their names was thus inscribed.

"This’ll all be over in a minute, Emma Jean, if you can give me one more good push."

Emma Jean panted.

"Just relax and try to control your breathing. We’re almost there now."

She nodded.

"Take a few deep breaths like this"—Henrietta inhaled and exhaled slowly—"and give me what you got."

A weary Emma Jean gasped. She had given birth before, but she didn’t remember it being so exhausting. Maybe, after birthing six boys, she wasn’t the woman she used to be.

"This one’s got a head full o’ hair, girl! I feel it!" Henrietta said, winking at Emma Jean while tugging the baby from her womb. "This might jes’ be the little girl you been waitin’ for!"

Emma Jean was hopeful, but refused to celebrate until she knew for sure. She hadn’t even chosen a name yet, although recently she’d considered Octavia or maybe Scarlet. If it was a boy, she didn’t know what she’d do, and she definitely didn’t know what she’d call him.

Gus returned the oversized family Bible to the sofa end table. He’d give those damn rains a piece of his mind whenever they finally came, he thought. It wasn’t fair, making him carry an overflowing heart for months now, and if, at any moment, he collapsed and unleashed in front of his boys, those rains would have to pay.

Woody, the third boy, slithered out like a slimy black garden snake, Henrietta said. She had never delivered a baby twenty-five inches long, so she told Gus to beware the devil in him. Gus said he would, then scribbled

Woody Peace, July 2, 1931

into the biblical registry. The child grew so quickly some folks said they saw him grow before their very eyes. Who had ever seen a five-year-old stand three feet tall? And as if that wasn’t strange enough, he laughed incessantly as he grew. Gus tried beating him, in hopes of calming his unbridled mirth, but the spankings only made him laugh harder. Perplexed that the jeering seemed unstoppable, and obviously unable to drive the devil from him, Gus stopped whipping Woody and started laughing with him. By 1945, an inch shy of his six-foot-two father, fourteen-year-old Woody was charging people a dime an hour to listen to his outrageous tales. Most paid without complaint. It was Emma Jean’s idea. "Don’t let folks use you, boy! Make these niggas pay if you gon’ entertain ’em. Colored folks always want somethin’ for free!" Woody obeyed and cut a slit in the plastic top of an empty Folgers coffee can, which then became his personal coffer. Some Saturday evenings, he filled the can, at which point Authorly’s huge, rounded palm collected the remaining admissions. The Laughins, as Gus called the gatherings, occurred on the front porch with folks scattered across the yard. Some walked for miles to hear Woody talk shit about things he couldn’t possibly have known. Thin as a young sapling in winter, he had elongated arms that swung freely from his torso as he clowned, while his pencil-shaped legs wobbled beneath him. His erratic movements made others fear he’d fall over, but he never did. That was part of the fun, people said, watching this rail-thin Goliath dramatize stories and jokes as his arms flared wide and his fourteen-inch feet danced awkwardly upon the wooden porch. Gus couldn’t tell whether people laughed with Woody or at him, but after weeks of all those dimes, he stopped caring.

"A country man went to a fancy party one night," Woody began one sultry summer evening. At first, folks milled about the yard casually, but when Woody started, they shuffled toward the porch as though it were magnetized. His booming voice, echoing across the yard, complemented his dramatic presentation and caused others to laugh long before he reached the punch line. "He was dressed in his best red suit, with red shoes and a matchin’ red hat! The nigga was sharp!"

Emma Jean yelped. Whenever Woody performed, she screamed like one being stabbed to death.

"They had food everywhere, of all different types. Ribs, chicken, casserole, all kinds of salads, and the man was eating like he ain’t never ate befo’! Well, like I said, this was a fancy party, so the white folks had labels on each table to let folks know what they was eatin’. The man walked ’round to all the different tables, trying a little bit of this and a little bit of that, then he approached a table with a label he couldn’t pronounce. He stared at the little piece of paper a long time, trying his best to figure out what it spelled, but he hadn’t never seen that word befo’. He wanted to try the food on the table, but since he couldn’t pronounce the word on the label, he just stood there, staring. The white chef behind the table said, ‘May I help you, sir?’ " Woody laughed as he mocked the chef’s voice. A few men turned away and hollered. "The Negro country man didn’t wanna look stupid, so he threw his head back real grand"—Woody exaggerated the movement—"and started talkin’ like the educated white chef. ‘Um, yessir,’ he said. ‘I’d like to try some of your whores de overs, please?’ " People shouted and scattered as if a bomb had exploded. Even Gus covered his bad teeth and laughed freely. Others tried to retell the story later, but no one could perform it like skinny Woody Peace. Emma Jean hoped the boy would become famous one day. Maybe then, she wouldn’t have to work anymore.

Gus and Emma Jean agreed their fourth child had to be a girl, so they never bothered thinking of another male name. Disgusted and disappointed when another boy arrived—this one the blackest of all—Gus suggested they call him King Solomon since, according to Reverend Lindsey, King Solomon had been a wise man. Emma Jean liked the idea so Gus scribbled

King Solomon Peace, May 20, 1933

into the family Bible.

No one paid Sol, as the boys called him, much attention until Christmas of 1939. Dressed in James Earl’s old Easter suit, he rose, prepared to recite "Silent Night" as his Christmas speech, but suddenly decided to sing it instead. His rich vibrato mesmerized the audience initially, but when Sol belted "All is calm, all is bright," complete with runs and trills adult vocalists couldn’t manage, people ignored his age and let the Holy Ghost have its way. Miss Mamie cried, "Yes, Lord!" as others stared in awe and wonder. The real phenomenon, Gus noted, was that the boy’s voice was identical to his mother’s. Gus felt the same tingling sensation whenever Emma Jean sang, and, to keep from crying, he rocked violently in every direction with Authorly whispering "Shhhh" into his right ear. No one could believe it. Sol switched to falsetto and ended sweetly with "Sleep in heavenly peace." A momentary hush befell the hypnotized congregation. Miss Mamie broke the silence with "Ouuuuuu we! That boy’s gotta gift!" "Shonuff!" others confirmed. Sol didn’t comprehend exactly what he’d done, but he loved the crowd’s response to it. So he started singing to anything and anyone who would listen. His voice became the clarion call for others to rise each morning in the Peace house hold, so if he overslept, everyone did. He loved that his voice disturbed people, leaving them weepy and vulnerable. He loved that birds gathered and chirped along as he serenaded the universe. And he loved that, in the spring of 1940, Gus asked him to sing to the seedlings and maybe they’d grow. People laughed at the boy, moving from row to row like a ministering evangelist, grazing his tender fingertips across fragile sprouts and singing at the top of his tenor range, but when, weeks later, peas, corn, okra, snap beans, and cabbage jumped from the earth in green abundance, the naysayers fell silent. Gus was grateful, but warned Sol not to get a big head.

On Sol’s first day of school, Miss Erma Briars was taken with his brilliance. He was precisely what a burnt-out country schoolteacher needed. Yet Gus saw things differently. He asked Emma Jean, "If the boy already smart, what’s de point o’ sendin’ him to school?" She ignored him and smiled at the As plastered across Sol’s worksheets. He tutored his older brothers in reading and math and loved that Authorly submitted to him, if only for a while.

"How you get smart like that?" Gus asked Sol one night before bed. "Me and yo’ momma ain’t smart."

He shrugged. "I don’t know."

Gus shrugged, too.

And Sol honestly didn’t know. Things just came easily to him, he said. And quickly. Sometimes he’d stare at other pupils, wondering why the simplest concepts appeared so difficult for them, but he never belittled anyone. Gus had told him that if you don’t use a gift to help others, God’ll take it away from you, so Sol assisted his classmates, whenever Miss Erma allowed, until most comprehended what he had understood days earlier. Little King Solomon Peace was the joy of the classroom until the day Emma Jean insisted he stop going.

Gus and Emma Jean’s fifth child was born blind. Kicking in the womb as though frustrated with its confinement, the baby reminded Emma Jean every day that she would surely regret having conceived out of desperation. In her sixth month, she knew it was a boy because, as she told her sister Gracie, "Only a man would kick a woman this hard." Miss Mamie confirmed her fear. "High as you carryin’ that load, girl, can’t be nothin’ but a ole’ big-head boy." Thirteen minutes after her first contraction, her fifth son burst forth without uttering a sound. Emma Jean screamed.

"He all right," Henrietta said. "Just quiet, I guess. That’s all."

Having run out of boy names two boys ago, Emma Jean simply called him Baby and said that somewhere, somehow his name would surface. Gus thanked God the child was alive and felt relieved that at least the boy didn’t seem slow.

Excerpted from Perfect Peace by Daniel Black.

Copyright © 2010 by Daniel Black.

Published in March 2010 by St. Martin's Press.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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Reading Group Guide

About the Book

The heartbreaking portrait of a large, rural southern family’s attempt to grapple with their mother’s desperate decision to make her newborn son into the daughter she will never have

When the seventh child of the Peace family, named Perfect, turns eight, her mother Emma Jean tells her bewildered daughter, “You was born a boy. I made you a girl. But that ain’t what you was supposed to be. So, from now on, you gon’ be a boy. It’ll be a little strange at first, but you’ll get used to it, and this’ll be over after while.” From this point forward, his life becomes a bizarre kaleidoscope of events. Meanwhile, the Peace family is forced to question everything they thought they knew about gender, sexuality, unconditional love, and fulfillment.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 331 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(213)

4 Star

(82)

3 Star

(24)

2 Star

(3)

1 Star

(9)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 334 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 13, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    I'm A Survivor

    Perfect Peace certainly can embrace the saying "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger." Perfect was born male and his mother Emma Jean out of her desperation and need for a female child convinced her son he was a she. He was dressed in ribbons and dresses and often told how beautiful she was. He was not allowed to play with his/her brothers. When she would ask she was told "girls don't play with boys, her younger brothers wanted to play with her but they were told shes supposed to do girl stuff.
    At the age of eight Emma Jean takes Perfect into the woods and abruptly change Perfect from female to male(Perfect to Paul). She hacks her beautiful hair into a short cut, forces her to believe he's a boy and must learn to act like one. She also tells Paul that he will be ok. Paul's dad Gus is having trouble with this new information and in dealing with Paul. His mind is plagued with memories of Perfect his little girl, how does he transition his mind? How can he love a son who was once his little girl? Gus decides to let his son Authorly teach Perfect how to be a man. All six of her brothers try to help each one using their own talent and experience coupled with love of family. But its one brother that teaches Paul a lesson Jesus would be proud of.
    As the family tries to heal after learning what Emma Jean has done the deception proves to be pretty strong for this family and no one can understand Emma Jeans reasoning. It's not until the face of tragedy hits that moves this family towards healing and survival. Perfect Peace forces the reader to re-think what you feel you know about personal desires, identity, gender, and sexual orientation. Mr. Black did an excellent job of appropriating the language of our people during this time. Also if imagined how a child would handle an identity crisis that borders homosexuality amongst people who were not educated enough to have grace or mercy.
    It is the opinion of this reviewer that Perfect Peace is a work of literary genius. No matter who you are we are all "perfect" in His eyes and should be allowed to live in "peace". Next up "The Sacred Place" by the same author my library would be incomplete without The Sacred Place and "They tell me of a Home".
    Missy
    Readers Paradise
    5 book marks

    17 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 21, 2010

    Read it in one Day!

    This was a wonderful book! Once I started I just couldn't put it down. The author takes great care in making you understand no only the mind frame of Perfect but everyone in the book. My favorite character was King Solomon because he truly embodied you can accomplish ANYTHING if you put your mind to it. Ironically, Emma Jean's character reminded me of how important it is to let things go. This is a wonderful book you wont regret reading it!

    10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 10, 2010

    Absolutely Awesome!

    Historical fiction isn't even my genre of choice, but the summary drew me in and I stayed up all night reading this book. It is an absolutely awesome tale of the African American experience, coming of age in the South, mental illness in Black America....and just a good read all wrapped into one. I don't know this author, but I will be on the lookout for other works by Daniel Black. Mmmmmmm....goood!

    10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2010

    Best book I read in years.

    This was book was the best book I read in a long time. Daniel Black brought his charaters alive. The storied moved easily and pulled me in. I felt intimate with the charaters. The book was so good. I laughed,I got angry and I cried. I visualized the whole scene and would love to see it as a movie it would be great. I can't say it enough this was a good book. I was truly impressed.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 6, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    Words cannot merely describe the way that I feel about this book

    Words cannot merely describe the way that I feel about this book, 'Perfect Peace' not only touched my heart but it opened up my soul. This is by far one of the best books that I have read in my entire life. The author Daniel Black took his time to construct remarkable and memorable characters that will truly resonate in my mind for a lifetime. As I read this book it often times reminded me of the struggles I endured in my childhood of feeling different and out of place. Daniel Black surely did his research in making sure to keep the story within context in reference to the plight and struggles of the African American's in the rural south in the mid 1900's. Daniel Black did a wonderful job at capturing all of the senses and allowing me the reader to have compassion on the characters that were presented. The book was soooo… good I honestly felt as if it had to be a true story. The world could definitely use more good books like this, as I just so happen to stumble upon this author.
    This story surely deserves an A++ rating and I promise you it was hard for me to put this book down. I literally purchased this book on my nook on Sunday night and finished reading as of Two O' Clock Wednesday Morning. I will surely recommend this book for any book club and as token of hope for those who feel different and insecure about themselves.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 29, 2010

    Skeptic turned Believer

    I must admit initially I was a little skeptical about how good a book about a boy being raised as a girl could be but that quickly changed after reading the very first chapter. There's something about great writing that has the power to draw a reader in regardless of the topic. The lessons about gender identity, forgiveness and purpose that I gained from this story are most appreciated and I just wanted to thank the author for having the courage to write it. The Perfect/Paul character was so identifiable because I believe there is a little bit of him in every little boy/girl - grown man/woman who has ever been reprimanded or ridiculed for being anything other than gender appropriate - whatever that means! This is an oddly interesting, personally important, provocative read for the 21st century and those who will take the chance to get to know this work will be better because of it. It gave me everything I needed to go further with my own personal journey.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2012

    Wow..did not expect it

    What a great book a must read. It almost unimaginable that something like this could happen, it was a soul toucher and changed my outlook on sexual preference, should be a movie!!!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2012

    Gripping read

    I couldn’t put this book down! The character development was incredibly rich and detailed. Even the unlikeable characters were understandable given their environment. Highly recommended read!

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 18, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A MUST READ FOR BOOK CLUBS!! GREAT FOR DISCUSSION

    OMG!! This book gets better and better with every page turned!! Read it in two days because the NOOK got heavy!! (my first NOOK READ)!! I will not get into the story but "Perfect" was anything but, it made me laugh, cry, and just when you think you Read It All, here comes another twist!! The Peace Family don't have a family secret, they have a family tragedy. How did Emma Jean pull this off for so long, with so many people living in the home!! MUST READ! MUST READ! MUST READ! I personaly did not care for the ending after alllll that...

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 8, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    a MUST read!

    This book is worth a read! There is a description of the book on this page so I will not write what it is about. All I will say is that I felt so sad for Perfect/Paul. I cannot imagine doing that to a child and forever have a child be lost as to who he is.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2012

    EXCELLENT READ!!

    FANTASTIC!!!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 20, 2010

    Amazing Book!

    This book was awesome from start to finish, the plot was awesome the characters were great as well. Now that I have read this book, this author is now under my favorite. This was the first book I purchased on the nook, and I loved it. It's touching.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2010

    Such a touching book

    I love this book, I cant truly say this is one of the best books I have ever read. My favorite character in the book is Eva Mae because through it all she stood by Perfect or Paul, when everybody else deserted him.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 22, 2013

    Great Read

    This story can be a little weird, but the author makes the story beleivable and therefor credible!
    I would like to read other books by this talented author!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2013

    Good Read

    This book was a slow read at first; but then it picked up and I could not put it down!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 1, 2013

    This story had me from the first chapter. The author did an amaz

    This story had me from the first chapter. The author did an amazing job of reflecting how deep loneliness and  longing for love can take a person.. 
    I am going to read it again only because the book has so many more social and emotional implications that I know was missed during the first read.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2012

    Awesome!

    The psyche is something else. The thought of a mother's selfishness ruining a child's life is beyond disheartening. But through it all, the victim survives and harbors no hard feelings. This book is a must read. Thank you, Daniel Black, for the experience.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 1, 2012

    Excellent Read

    Wow!! This book is excellent. It kept my attention from start to finish!!! If you have not read this book.. you are missing a mighty good treat!!! This author paints the pictures so well..I would love to see this on the big screen!!!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2012

    5 STAR REVIEW!

    Daniel Black is a literary genius! This book was clever, funny, heartfelt and suspensful. Each chapter surprised me and each character tugged at my heartstrings. Perfect Peace is to-date my favorite book. The narrative is original and authentic. You won't be disappointed!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2012

    Sex at

    Feel me first result

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 334 Customer Reviews

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