O Magazine Lockhart's mastery of sensory detail the tastes, smells, sounds, and sights of Odessa's world roots us moment to moment in the hardscrabble life of this transcendent tale.
Essence A touching story told with incredible grace and subtlety.
The San Francisco Chronicle The language in [Fifth Born] is eloquent, the writing style poetic and the use of African American dialogue masterful.
Kirkus Reviews A poetic debut....An impressively mature piece of work.
Robin D. Stone With compassion, wit and grace, Zelda Lockhart gives us a new heroine: Odessa forgotten, betrayed, wounded in body but strong in spirit that keeps us rooting for her 'til the sweet, sweet end.
The Barnes & Noble Review from Discover Great New Writers
Debut novelist Zelda Lockhart studied with writer Dorothy Allison, and the evidence of that link lies on every page. Like much of Allison's work, Fifth Born is a painful read. In a voice with the same immediacy as that of Allison's protagonist, Bone, in Bastard Out of Carolina, Lockhart's endearing Odessa, the "fifth born" child in an ever-expanding family, is the keen-eyed observer who takes readers on a harrowing journey through adolescence.
Odessa's unruly Mississippi family moves north to St. Louis, but their problems follow close behind. Her "Deddy," an alcoholic with "a dullness behind his eyes from so much wanting and not enough getting," wields his belt as a weapon, and the threat of its usage is omnipresent. But the belt is just one symbol of the power he holds. Odessa's mama, a prototypical enabler, makes up stories to mask the family abuse rather than risk confrontation, convincing a young Odessa of her inability to see things clearly.
Odessa's story, unfortunately, is not a new one. But Lockhart's literary sensibilities, so well honed for a newcomer, raise the bar for the typical abuse tale. The raw intensity of her prose sings with tension and stuns with its ability to affect. But Fifth Born does not end without hope. Odessa goes in search of the truth and begins to see more clearly than ever the terrible darkness the cloak of secrecy has compelled her family to live within, and to realize that she, though wounded, may find someone to love her after all.
Fall 2002 Selection
Set in Mississippi and Missouri in the 1970s, this strong debut novel tackles harrowing if familiar themes of family violence and abuse. As the fifth child in a family of eight siblings, Odessa Blackburn sees herself as the "invisible middle" of her family. Sexually abused by her alcoholic father early in life and then again in late childhood, Odessa feels herself pushed away by her enabling mother and alienated by her own siblings, each of whom has a different strategy for coping with the family dysfunction. As Odessa grows up, she learns that her mother is having an affair with her father's older brother, Leland, and when her father learns of it and murders Leland, Odessa is the only witness. Unable to tell anyone what she's seen or about her own molestations, Odessa turns inward to memories of the one person who has ever shown her any real love: her grandmother, whose funeral opens the book. Odessa discovers a message in her grandmother's Bible that sheds some light on the intergenerational anguish of her family: "I lived in fear so much I couldn't show you any love." As Odessa begins her quest for a haven, she finds a long-lost relative who is also the "fifth born" and plays an important role in helping her rediscover her sense of trust. First-time author Lockhart, student of bestselling author Dorothy Allison, paints a disturbing portrait of childhood sexual abuse and its repercussions, and the strain alcoholism places on a family. While little new territory is covered here from a literary standpoint, Lockhart's narrative is straightforward and lyrical, Odessa's voice is believable and the evolution of her character in the face of overwhelming alienation is as engaging as it is heartbreaking. (Aug. 6) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
In a poetic debut, a little girl is seemingly the only witness to her large family's truly disturbed behavior. When she's only three, little Odessa sees the only person who seems to care about her, her grandmother, dies, and it all seems downhill from there. Odessa is the youngest child in a big African-American clan that relocated from rural Mississippi to St. Louis for apparently no other reason than that their ill-tempered father could continue picking up the scraps from his more successful brother, Leland, who owned a tavern there. Odessa is not even old enough for school the first time her father sexually abuses her. Even though it's plenty obvious to her mother, nothing is ever said. The years pass and Odessa becomes more aware of her father's horrendous, drunken, and violent nature even as she forgets the details of what happened to her. The older she gets, the more her family's secrets come clear, and eventually the stage is set for a harrowing revelation back under the stultifying Mississippi sun. Lockhart studied under Dorothy Allison, and the influence shows. But even though the novel has echoes-a young girl lost in a welter of lies and abuse set against a hot and humid southern backdrop-it's a story all Lockhart's own. Odessa's voice is a singular one, never too wise for her age but still possessed of a keen perception that brings the hazy memories of childhood into sharp relief. An impressively mature piece of work.