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The Star Side of Bird Hill
     

The Star Side of Bird Hill

4.0 2
by Naomi Jackson
 

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Two sisters are suddenly sent from their home in Brooklyn to Barbados to live with their grandmother, in this stunning debut novel
 
This lyrical novel of community, betrayal, and love centers on an unforgettable matriarchal family in Barbados. Two sisters, ages ten and sixteen, are exiled from Brooklyn to Bird Hill in Barbados after their mother can

Overview

Two sisters are suddenly sent from their home in Brooklyn to Barbados to live with their grandmother, in this stunning debut novel
 
This lyrical novel of community, betrayal, and love centers on an unforgettable matriarchal family in Barbados. Two sisters, ages ten and sixteen, are exiled from Brooklyn to Bird Hill in Barbados after their mother can no longer care for them. The young Phaedra and her older sister, Dionne, live for the summer of 1989 with their grandmother Hyacinth, a midwife and practitioner of the local spiritual practice of obeah.

Dionne spends the summer in search of love, testing her grandmother’s limits, and wanting to go home. Phaedra explores Bird Hill, where her family has lived for generations, accompanies her grandmother in her role as a midwife, and investigates their mother’s mysterious life.

This tautly paced coming-of-age story builds to a crisis when the father they barely know comes to Bird Hill to reclaim his daughters, and both Phaedra and Dionne must choose between the Brooklyn they once knew and loved or the Barbados of their family.

Jackson’s Barbados and her characters are singular, especially the wise Hyacinth and the heartbreaking young Phaedra, who is coming into her own as a young woman amid the tumult of her family.

Praise for The Star Side of Bird Hill

“Jackson has written a first novel full of heart and heartbreak, a novel about going home, about the ties that bind three generations of women across years and despite absence. It is a bittersweet lesson in learning to recognize love.”
—Ayana Mathis, author of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 selection)

“Naomi Jackson has written a tender novel exploring the complexities of motherhood and childhood. The Star Side of Bird Hill holds together opposing elements—the book is quiet in the telling, but the story being told is sharp and vibrant. It is as much a story of the fears of childhood as it is a story about welcoming old age with optimism. A book that knows death and discovery. A book laced with pain but shimmering with hope. With care, the narrative addresses huge issues, such as mental illness, mortality, sexuality, and, at its very core, what it means to love another person as they are.”
—Tiphanie Yanique, author of Land of Love and Drowning

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Mira Jacob
What is worth holding on to when you've inherited a legacy of loss?…Jackson's vibrant debut…finds three members of a newly minted family in varying degrees of distress, trying to answer that question…Jackson makes much of the missing Avril, allowing her absence to haunt each character in such a complex way that we know them as much by their grief as by the actions they take to soothe it. Hyacinth's night walks, Dionne's sexual experiences, Phaedra's quest to be good all make real the transformation that occurs when the hope for a gentle outcome dies and you "become someone else, even if you didn't intend to at first." That point becomes significantly deeper as Jackson gestures toward the legacy of slavery in Barbados and the weight of cultural inheritance.
Publishers Weekly
05/18/2015
Jackson's debut novel is a bittersweet coming-of-age tale of heartbreak and loss. Dionne and Phaedra, 16 and 10, are two sisters who go to Barbados in the summer of 1989, in the care of their grandmother Hyacinth, when their depressed mother is no longer able to take care of them in New York. Dionne acts out and meets boys, while Phaedra immerses herself in her grandmother's world. When their circumstances suddenly change and dictate a more permanent stay in Barbados, the girls are angry and confused. Their unfamiliar situation is further compounded by the reappearance of their long-gone father. He presents a chance to return to America, if they can trust him, and if they choose to leave their grandmother. Jackson's story becomes stronger and stronger as we get to know these characters. The themes she touches on—mental illness, immigration, motherhood, sexual awakening—are potent and deftly juggled, anchored in the vivid locale of Bird Hill yet universally relatable. Readers will be turning the pages to follow Phaedra and Dionne's memorable journey. (June)
From the Publisher
“The evocation of the island is romantic and alive…Jackson renders [the characters’] inner lives effectively.”
—The New Yorker

 
“The Star Side of Bird Hill is, at its core, a story about mothers and daughters. But the rich and colorful world Ms. Jackson renders on the page moves well beyond that, too, setting itself the task of exploring so much more…Ms. Jackson has a deft hand with characterization — all of the people she creates feel utterly human…There are questions, pain, tenderness, and also wisdom in [the] writing…Naomi Jackson vividly delivers two entirely different worlds and a whole range of experiences that taught me a little bit more about how to be a better human.”
—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
 
“Stunning…Poignant…Jackson vividly evokes the landscape, the personalities of this Bird Hill community, as she explores the difficulties of the immigrant experience, the certainties of living all your life in one place vs. the claustrophobic aspect of having the past and family define who you are and will be in the future…Jackson’s writing is to be savored.”
—Buffalo News

“Once in a while, you’ll stumble onto a book like this, one so poetic in its descriptions and so alive with lovable, frustrating, painfully real characters, that your emotional response to it becomes almost physical…[A] wrenching debut…The dual coming-of-age story alone could melt the sternest of hearts, but Jackson’s exquisite prose is a marvel too...A gem of a book. A”
—Entertainment Weekly
 
“From Maryse Condé to Edwidge Danticat to Tiphanie Yanique, contemporary Caribbean writers have produced an exquisite literature of diaspora and affirmation, richly depicting the dreams and disappointments of their characters. Now Naomi Jackson joins their ranks with The Star Side of Bird Hill, a serious yet effervescent debut that showcases three generations of women as they grapple with conflict and loss during the fateful summer of 1989…Jackson brings the lush textures of Barbados to the fore: sugar cane fields and smelly fish markets, raucous festivals and an extended wake called ‘nine-nights’…More than a coming-of-age novel, The Star Side of Bird Hill evokes the intractable forces that tear at families and cultures.”
—Minneapolis Star-Tribune  

“[The Star Side of Bird Hill] belongs to Phaedra, an unforgettable character and the best thing about the novel. She's complex, smart and has a sense of introspection that her sister seems to lack…Jackson’s evocative, lyrical writing…makes Barbados come to life, and she’s comfortable with both humor and pathos…A lovely [book], and Jackson seems likely to have a distinguished career ahead of her.”
—NPR.org

“[A] keen-eyed debut…At the novel’s core is a tender coming-of-age story that explores the complications of Dionne's first affair with a young suitor (the title refers to her favorite churchyard getaway spot) and the realizations that Phaedra has about her family and her connection to them all, despite their flaws…A lush and sensitive read with a setting well matched for a sultry summer afternoon.”
—Oprah.com

“Holy cats, this novel is wonderful…Lyrical, a really stellar debut.”
—BookRiot

“Naomi Jackson is our new favorite writer.”
—PureWow

“Watching these three characters find their way to that support reveals the heart of The Star Side of Bird Hill—riveting in its story of family and love, and all the more so because of the nuanced differences Jackson has so skillfully written into each of her characters.”
—Shelf Awareness

“Lyrical.”
—Travel + Leisure
 
“The Star Side of Bird Hill moves forcefully between Barbados and Brooklyn in this plangent coming-of-age debut novel about two sisters torn between their absent father’s reappearance and their strong, matriarchal island family.”
—Elle

“Satisfyingly complex…Jackson’s lyrical descriptions of the island’s natural beauty and rich culture…[set] this book apart.”
—Bustle

 “A winning coming-of-age tale with Caribbean flavour.”
 —BBC.com

“A heartbreaking coming-of-age story, The Star Side of Bird Hill is ultimately about the choices we must make about love and family, and what it means to go home.”
—Buzzfeed

“Moving…[Jackson] has delivered a novel of remarkable strength and beauty as she chronicles the sojourn of two sisters to their mother’s homeland of Barbados for the summer…This is a story of sisterhood and tough, unbreakable love. This is a book that asks: What happens when you go home and find the answers you didn’t know you were looking for?”
—Gawker

“A striking accomplishment filled with heartbreak and characters you want to bittersweetly hug…A story about sisterhood, family, and what ‘home’ means, The Star Side of Bird Hill is not a book you dare to forget.”
—Hello Giggles

“The writing is especially fine, with even minor characters benefiting from Jackson’s lyrical descriptions…[THE STAR SIDE OF BIRD HILL] recall[s] Toni ­Morrison’s Love.”
—Library Journal (starred review)

“A bittersweet coming-of-age tale of heartbreak and loss…Jackson's story becomes stronger and stronger as we get to know these characters. The themes she touches on—mental illness, immigration, motherhood, sexual awakening—are potent and deftly juggled, anchored in the vivid locale of Bird Hill yet universally relatable. Readers will be turning the pages to follow Phaedra and Dionne's memorable journey.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Many moments of awareness…permeate this delightful debut novel. An engrossing and poignant coming-of-age story populated with engaging, well-drawn characters.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“Rich in the aspect and feel of the Caribbean…A charming, laid-back bildungsroman and an uplifting story about the importance of a stable, loving home and the embrace of one’s culture.”
—Booklist

"The Star Side of Bird Hill reads as if we’re let in on a sometimes wonderful, sometimes thrilling, sometimes terrible secret. It’s the unwritten history of women without men, of girls in conflict with themselves and the damage—and healing that can come from the same place: Family."
—Marlon James, author of A Brief History Of Seven Killings

"Naomi Jackson packs a hell of a lot of love and death and magic into this wonderful debut. The Star Side of Bird Hill travels between Barbados and Brooklyn telling the story of a family, and a people, who move between worlds and world views. But really this is the story of one young girl named Phaedra who is trying her best in a world that doesn't always see the best in her. There are touches of Jamaica Kincaid and J.D. Salinger here, but Naomi Jackson is an artist all her own."
— Victor LaValle, author of The Devil in Silver

“Jackson has written a first novel full of heart and heartbreak, a novel about going home, about the ties that bind three generations of women across years and despite absence. It is a bittersweet lesson in learning to recognize love.”
— Ayana Mathis, author of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 selection)

“Naomi Jackson has written a tender novel exploring the complexities of motherhood and childhood. The Star Side of Bird Hill holds together opposing elements—the book is quiet in the telling, but the story being told is sharp and virbrant. It is as much a story of the fears of childhood as it is a story about welcoming old age with optimism. A book that knows death and discovery. A book laced with pain but shimmering with hope. With care, the narrative addresses huge issues such as mental illness, mortality, sexuality and, at its very core, what it means to love another person as they are.”
—Tiphanie Yanique, author of Land of Love and Drowning

 

Library Journal
★ 06/01/2015
With this work, Fulbright scholar and Iowa Writers' Workshop graduate Jackson joins her peer Angela Flourney, author of the just-published The Turner House, in continuing the rich tradition of African American storytelling. In the summer of 1989, the mentally fragile Avril sends her daughters, ten-year-old Phaedra and 16-year-old Dionne, to visit their grandmother in Bird Hill, Barbados, while she works to build a better foundation for them after their father leaves her destitute. The island provokes culture shock in Dionne, who misses her life in Brooklyn and rebels against her grandmother. Phaedra, on the other hand, feels at home on the island, as she draws wisdom from the grandmother she barely knew. Interestingly, Avril, who rarely appears in the narrative, is the glue that binds everyone together, including the father who shows up after her death to claim his daughters. The writing is especially fine, with even minor characters benefiting from Jackson's lyrical descriptions. VERDICT Recalling Toni Morrison's Love, this work will appeal to fans of African American and literary fiction.—Ashanti White, Yelm, WA
School Library Journal
★ 02/01/2016
Two sisters—Dionne, 16, and Phaedra, 11—are suddenly shipped off from Brooklyn to Barbados by their mother in the summer of 1989 to live with their grandmother, a midwife and practitioner of obeah, because their mother can no longer take care of them. The siblings struggle to find their places at Hyacinth's home in Bird Hill: Dionne longs to fall in love and return to New York; Phaedra immerses herself in her grandmother's practice. They discover family secrets and are confronted with their long-absent father, who comes to reclaim them. Soon, the sisters have to choose between familiar Brooklyn and the island. In this lyrical debut, the two protagonists come of age against the backdrop of the sumptuous and vibrant Bird Hill, Barbados. Woven throughout are tender moments of love and loss, along with deep issues such as mental illness, sexuality, and betrayal. The protagonists are multilayered and nuanced, and the island becomes a character in itself. Equally heartbreaking and triumphant, this narrative is filled with the pain and hope of growing up. VERDICT Unforgettable characters, a lush setting, and family drama will keep teens reading this deft and stunning work.—Shelley Diaz, School Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
2015-04-15
Sixteen-year-old Dionne Braithwaite and her 10-year-old sister, Phaedra, are sent to the tiny town of St. John, Barbados, to stay with their grandmother while their mother, Avril, recovers from a long depression. Avril, a nurse, has been overwhelmed with sadness after witnessing the deaths of her patients to AIDS following the sudden disappearance of her abusive husband, Errol. With Avril unable to take care of her family, it was Dionne who took on the responsibility of caring for her mother and her little sister. But in her grandmother's house in Barbados, Dionne doesn't need to take care of anyone but herself—and she finds it unnerving. Phaedra, however, fits right in—to her, Barbados feels like the home Brooklyn never was—and she gleefully absorbs the stories of her mother's people. The mystery of what happened to Avril to weight her life with such sadness fuels the book, becoming the driving force behind Dionne's desire to discover the pieces of Avril left behind in her old Barbados bedroom. But as Avril delays returning to take the girls back to Brooklyn, Dionne begins to act out and make unwise relationship decisions, leading her grandmother to believe she's on her way to becoming the kind of "easy" girl who lets herself be used by men. What Dionne's grandmother doesn't realize is that the one thing Dionne had learned from watching Avril was "that if you wanted to keep a man, he should love you at least a little bit more than you loved him"—one of many moments of awareness that permeate this delightful debut novel. An engrossing and poignant coming-of-age story populated with engaging, well-drawn characters.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780698152281
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
06/30/2015
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
361,635
File size:
614 KB
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

The people on the hill liked to say that God’s smile was the sun shining down on them. In the late after­noon, before scarlet ibis bloodied the view of sunset, light flooded the stained-glass windows of Bird Hill Church of God in Christ, illuminating the renderings of black saints from Jesus to Absalom Jones. When there wasn’t prayer meeting, choir rehearsal, Bible study, or Girl Guides, the church was empty except for its caretaker, Mr. Jeremiah. It was his job to chase the children away from the cem­etery that sloped down behind the church, his responsibility to shoo them from their perches on graves that dotted the backside of the hill the area was named for. Despite his best intentions, Mr. Jeremiah’s noontime and midnight devotionals at the rum shop brought on long slumbers, when children found freedom to do as they liked among the dead.

Dionne Braithwaite was two weeks fresh from Brooklyn, and Barbados’s fierce sun had already transformed her skin from its New York shade of caramel to a brick red. She was wear­ing foundation that was too light for her skin now. It came off in smears on the white handkerchiefs she stole from her grandmother’s chest of drawers, but she wore it anyway, because makeup was her tether to the life she’d left back home.

Dionne was sixteen going on a bitter, if beauti­ful, forty-five. Although she thought herself above the things the children on Bird Hill did, she liked the hiding place the graveyard behind the church provided.

Dionne’s younger sister, Phaedra, played tag among the miniature graves of children, all casual­ties of the 1955 cholera outbreak. Nineteen girls and one boy had died before the hill folks abandoned their suspicion of the world in general and doctors in particular to seek help from “outside people.” This was just one of the stories that Dionne and Phaedra’s mother sum­moned as evidence for why she left the hill the first chance she got.

Phaedra and her sister arrived from Brooklyn at the beginning of the summer. Phaedra was small for her ten years. Her skin had darkened to a deep cacao from run­ning in the sun all day in spite of her grandmother’s protests. She wore her hair in a French braid, its length tucked away from the girls who threatened her after reading about Samson and Delilah in Sunday school. Glimpses of Phaedra’s future beauty peeked out from behind her pink heart-shaped glasses, which were held together with scotch tape.

Meet the Author

NAOMI JACKSON was born and raised in Brooklyn by West Indian parents. She studied fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was awarded the Maytag Fellowship for Excellence in Fiction to complete her first novel, The Star Side of Bird Hill. Jackson traveled to South Africa on a Fulbright scholarship, where she received an MA in creative writing from the University of Cape Town. A graduate of Williams College, Jackson has had her work appear in literary journals and magazines in the United States and abroad.

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The Star Side of Bird Hill: A Novel 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Arnora More than 1 year ago
Naomi Jackson's debut novel is lyrical, compelling and engrossing. Her command of the craft of storytelling is masterful and wondrous. I don't typically read this genre, but after reading her book, I can't wait until this brilliant author writes another tale. Don't wait...read! Enjoy.
BrandieC More than 1 year ago
The Star Side of Bird Hill is set primarily in Barbados, with occasional flashbacks to Brooklyn. I had expected this juxtaposition to play a significant role in the book, so I was disappointed to discover that the choice of Barbados as the novel's main setting serves merely to add a little exotic color to a family drama which could have taken place anywhere. There is nothing particularly wrong with this book, other than its very abrupt ending, but there is nothing particularly great about it, either. I don't regret having read a free ARC, but I would have felt that I wasted my money if I had purchased it. I received a free copy of The Star Side of Bird Hill through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.