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At-Risk based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
THIS REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT THE NERVOUS BREAKDOWN. Winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, At-risk (University of Georgia Press) by Amina Gautier is a heartbreaking, eye opening, and endearing collection of stories that focus on African-American children in turmoil. Fathers leave, or if they stay, fall apart—addictions and failure all around them. Mothers ignore, or distance themselves, pushing their own agendas. Brothers and sisters either die in the street or get out by whatever means is necessary. And somewhere in the shadows of these events sit the boys and girls who try to make sense of it all—and try to survive it, unscarred. When you are lost, ignored, and generally treated as less than worthwhile by society, your family, and your friends, how do you find yourself, how do you find a way to rise above it all? In the case of “Girl of Wisdom” you seek the attention of somebody, anybody, that will make you feel special. Melanie starts out joking with the neighborhood boys but tries to grow up fast by hopping in the car of a stranger and riding off with him. He’s a much older man, but she takes charge of the situation, in an effort to transform herself from a girl into a woman: “Melanie finds his bedroom on her own. She doesn’t wait for him to follow. She goes to it, undresses, peels back thin cotton sheets and climbs into his bed. What courtesy he shows when he turns his back to her while he undresses, before climbing in beside her. He doesn’t pounce on her the way a boy her own age would. His legs are wiry and strong against hers, his feet bony and cold. How gentle it is when he parts her legs, how silent when he enters her.” Even though we all lost our virginities in one way or another, this is still a difficult scene to watch. When she comes home later, she hopes that her mother, Bernice, will finally notice her and see the change, see how she is wise now—evolved. But she doesn’t. (For the rest of the review go to TNB).
This delightful short story collection gives clear insight into the situations that plague our youth. Each story is wonderfully different and totally unique. Gautier's style is most enjoyable and refreshing, especially her interesting subtleties throughout her collection. The writing is beautiful, simple and rhythmic all at the same time. I think it's really hard to write from the point of view of a child without making the kids seem too adult or too sentimental and cheesy. Yet, Gautier manages to this beautifully. The voices and linguistics are all youthful and characteristic of our inner city youths. Although the stories all are serious, plenty of them have small humorous touches. I especially like the way Gautier frames the collection by beginning and ending with the same characters, but how all the stories in the middle are different, as if all the other characters can live between the two possibilities. The stories focus on underprivileged or "at-risk" kids, but the book is not gloomy or depressing. This writer goes inside the heads of her characters and makes them all seem real. What I really appreciate about these stories is that they are all subtle and so well-written. Nothing is blatant and in your face. These stories don't overdo it and create stereotypical or pitiful characters. None of the kids come off as charity cases. It seems like the writer is saying that even though people are products of their environment, the kids also have to make their own choices and decisions. Wow, what a lovely book! I loved every story and hope there will be more to come from this author. If you are looking for thought provoking read, this is a book to buy.