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Rebel Yell

Rebel Yell

2.6 3
by Alice Randall

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Abel Jones Jr., a civil rights lawyer's son turned black Washington neo-con, has met an unlikely end: collapsing at the Rebel Yell dinner theater, surrounded by actors in Confederate regalia, with his white second wife at his side. Hope Jones Blackshear, Abel's first wife and mother of his only son, is left confounded by the turn his life took in his later


Abel Jones Jr., a civil rights lawyer's son turned black Washington neo-con, has met an unlikely end: collapsing at the Rebel Yell dinner theater, surrounded by actors in Confederate regalia, with his white second wife at his side. Hope Jones Blackshear, Abel's first wife and mother of his only son, is left confounded by the turn his life took in his later years.

Sharing a drink after the funeral with Abel's old friend Nicholas Gordon, Hope lets herself reminisce about first meeting Abel at Harvard, and their early married days as a foreign service couple in Manila and Martinique. But her own version of history is altered by that of Nicholas, a dandified Brit who seems to know more than he lets on. To fully understand the story of Abel Jones, for her own sake and that of their teenage son, Hope journeys from Nashville to Rome, seeking the connection between the Abel she loved, a child of Southern terror in the sixties, and the Abel who became a White House watchdog of global terror, driven to measures Hope could never have imagined.

The work of one of our gutsiest writers, Rebel Yell is a novel of resilient love, political intrigue, and family secrets, steeped in our country's racial history and framing our unique political moment.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Randall moves masterfully between past and present and between Nashville, Washington, D.C., Manila, and Rome to present an intriguing portrait of a young black couple struggling with racial identity and expectations…Randall demonstrates, with delicious imagery and a sense of racial irony, a love for history's forgotten and overlooked.” —Booklist

“Alice Randall's Rebel Yell addresses race, class, backroom politics, and family intrigue through the intellectual yet heart-smart lens of Harvard-educated African American Hope Jones Blackshear. Traveling between her native Nashville and Rome, Blackshear faces down facts and fictions of her own past that parallel the tumult of Americas first postmillenial decade.” —Elle

James A. Miller
Rebel Yell offers a rich journey through the world of distinguished graduates of Southern black colleges, black fraternities and sororities, Jack and Jill societies, Ivy League institutions and summer vacations at Martha's Vineyard—the world, in short, of a black elite whose lives are only dimly glimpsed by many Americans…Part detective story, part love story, Rebel Yell is a novel deeply suffused with nostalgia and mourning.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

What starts off as a drive from Nashville to Birmingham quickly moves across the globe as Randall (The Wind Done Gone) unravels the life of Abel Jones. "The day Abel was born, sweet tucked deep in the dark South, Langston Hughes, out west on a speaking tour, typed a little poem in celebration... Abel was colored-baby royalty"-but things aren't always so sweet. Abel faces run-ins with the KKK and, after a short lifetime as an angry husband and father and a secretive spy, meets his untimely end in the bathroom of a campy dinner theater restaurant. We learn most of his history via his first wife, Hope, following her journey from "a young Georgetown matron" to the present (thoughts on President Obama and all). As she tries to reconcile Abel's "right to tell necessary lies to his wife, and to whomever else he chose," she discovers what it is that bound them together in the first place. Randall leaves much to the imagination, but in the end, she successfully creates a family that's been torn apart and haphazardly put back together by forces sometimes terrifying, sometimes hopeful. (Oct.)

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Library Journal
Abel Jones Jr.'s death was both tragic and comic as he suffered an asthma attack in the bathroom of the Rebel Yell during a Confederate reenactment while his white family celebrated just outside the doors. Randall, who established her clever storytelling prowess with the New York Times best seller The Wind Done Gone, uses the passing of the conflicted Abel to pull together aspects of his lives as a divorcé and husband, a Southern black man, father, son, government official, and intelligence agent that likely would have never intersected. The beauty here lies not only in Randall's multifaceted characterizations but in the beautiful paintings she creates with words: "The day Abel was born, sweet tucked deep in the dark South, Langston Hughes, out west on a speaking tour, types out a little poem in celebration." VERDICT Though not as poetic, this work is reminiscent of the powerful intricacies of Toni Morrison's Love as it weaves the past with the present. Randall's latest tale is nostalgic, heart-wrenching, and captivating. Recommended for lovers of history and fantasy with contemporary overtones.—Ashanti White, Raleigh, NC
Kirkus Reviews
Placing a black conservative born into the civil-rights aristocracy at the center of her new novel, Randall (Pushkin and the Queen of Spades, 2004, etc.) explores race in contemporary America. Abel Jones Jr. is the descendant of activists and artists who fought for African-American dignity and forged comfortable communities for themselves in the midcentury South. Abel dies in the men's room of the Rebel Yell dinner theater while his white second wife, a one-time country singer, and their children watch actors in gray uniforms reenact the Confederacy's most glorious moments. As she surveys the high-ranking Pentagon officials and Republican luminaries who assemble for his funeral, Abel's black first wife, Hope, feels compelled to understand how the man she once loved turned into a self-hating African-American and a darling of the neocon movement. (Abel seems to be an amalgam of Colin Powell and Alberto Gonzales, while another character is clearly based on Condoleezza Rice.) Hope's search for answers gives this narrative shape, and the author is adept at depicting the complex interactions among races, classes and generations. When Abel's wife rejects the baked goods and casseroles offered by black Nashville's matriarchs in favor of a catered buffet-Thai, no less-for Abel's wake, the reader learns just about everything there is to know about where Abel came from and where he ended up. Unfortunately, Randall is not always so discerning; she devotes an entire paragraph, for example, to her protagonist's bathroom decor, preferred toothbrush and choice of washcloth. Such pointless details, indulged in again and again, distract from the central, essential mystery: Who was Abel Jones Jr.?Anintriguing premise poorly executed.

Product Details

Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.40(d)


Meet the Author

Alice Randall was born in Detroit, grew up in Washington, D.C., and graduated from Harvard College. She is the author of The Wind Done Gone and Pushkin and the Queen of Spades, and her writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Elle, and O, the Oprah Magazine. Also an accomplished songwriter, Randall is the only African-American woman ever to write a number-one country song. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is Writer-in-Residence at Vanderbilt University.

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Rebel Yell 2.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story is multifaceted and complex, but engaging on all levels. It is a story about family as a woman looks back upon the life that she had with her first husband in order to understand how the man that she loved turned into a man that she barely understood when he died while at the same time valuing the second life that she has constructed with a son and a new husband. The focus of the book however is on the evolving issue of race in the American south as the narrator traces her own history and the history of her first husband's family through three very different generations, eventually leading to an understanding of the relationship between the activism of the Civil Rights generation and contemporary black conservatism. This books ties together many strings into a story that is both engaging on an emotional level as one of heartbreak and renewal, but also on a political and intellectual level, examining the current state of race in America. I recommend it to anyone who has an interest in either of these topics or someone who simply enjoys a thought provoking read.
kel_anne More than 1 year ago
I really hate not finishing a book that I've started. If it wasn't for that, I would probably never have made it past the first 50 pages. As it was, I kept trying and trying to get through this book, and finally gave up about 175 pages in. For those of you who know me, it's extremely rare for me to not finish a book! Part of the hard part for me was the culture and lifestyle that was described is very different from how I was raised. So I had a really hard time understanding some of the things that were discussed. For example, I had a hard time understanding why certain things were so insulting to some of the characters. Maybe if it was written in a way that I could see where they were coming from, it would have been interesting to learn about a culture different from mine. That's something that I would enjoy! Instead, the way that it was written was very confusing. I also just kept waiting for there to be a real story, and I never found one! I know that it's about Abel Jr, or Abel III, not sure which. They called him by both, so who knows! He died and his ex-wife is thinking about his life. But beyond that, I couldn't find a story. The author just kept jumping from one thing to another, and from one time frame to another, with no real connections in-between. I never really felt like I was getting to know Abel in any way. I mean, yeah, I was hearing details of his life, but I never felt like I was getting to know him personally. Why did he do certain things? How did particular events effect him and make him the man he ended up becoming? I think that the author was trying to tell us those things, but I never felt them. I never felt like I knew Abel at all! And the tidbits about some of the relationships were vague, odd, and sometimes disturbing. In the center is Abel's son Ajay. Ajay's step-father is having an affair. I keep getting a feeling that his mother hasn't been faithful either, even though at this point that's never actually stated. His step-mother is hitting on him. And his father seems to have been unfaithful to both of his wives, and possibly was gay. Good luck to this kid with those kinds of dysfunctional relationships as his examples! I truly tried to get into this book and to find something good or interesting about it. Instead, I felt like it was a chore just to try to read another chapter. Unfortunatly, there are too many amazing books out there for me to read, to continue to waste my time on this one.