Adult/High School-This novel follows the lives of four black friends from their childhood in Philadelphia to early middle age. In 1959, they got together with six other 9-, 10-, and 11-year-old girls to form a spectacular, well-disciplined drill team that they named "The Justus Girls." The story opens when Peaches, one of the core four, is found murdered on the front porch of her home at age 43. Sally Mae, Jan, and Rasheedah support one another through this tragedy by reminiscing about their past. They start to meet regularly after Peaches's funeral, and they grow closer as they continue to help one another through the crises that they currently face. Justus Girls will have special appeal for high school girls because of its breezy, colorful, and colloquial language, as well as its humor and vivid descriptions of urban teenage life of an earlier generation. In addition, this title would be an excellent selection for the mother-daughter book clubs that have become popular in recent years. It is likely to spark lively discussion about the popular culture of the '60s and '70s, and its influence on hip-hop culture. The impact of the Vietnam War on the eldest members of the baby-boom generation, child neglect and abuse, the effects of substance abuse, the difficulties of single parenthood, the concept of karma, and the value of close friendships are other topics of discussion that this novel will inspire.-Joyce Fay Fletcher, Rippon Middle School, Prince William County, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
A rollicking, exuberant debut, peopled with the likes of Monsieur Daddy Baby, Peaches, and Bay Girl, offers a look into Philadelphia's African-American community. Beginning with the mysterious murder of Peaches, found shot to death at 43 on her front porch, the narrative soon introduces three childhood friends reunited at her funeral. Tough Sally Mae, proper Jan, and beautiful Roach, along with Peaches, formed the Justus Girlz, a drill team created out of their need to succeed at something on their own terms. Life later took them in different directions-Sally Mae became a civil rights activist, Jan married and started her own business, after a failed marriage Roach converted to Islam-but when they once again come together they find their youthful bond is strong enough to get them through midlife's new set of challenges. (Widowed Jan is suicidal; Roach is in a custody battle with her former husband.) The story's at its best when re-creating the sights and sounds of black Philadelphia in the late '50s and early '60s. Peaches, a prostitute's daughter, is shuttled off to Uncle Elmo, an upstanding policeman who molests her, then rescued by eccentric cross-dresser Vaa, who makes sure she's safely placed with Jan's family. But the damage is done: Peaches begins drinking and is pregnant before she leaves high school. The flashbacks follow the ups and downs of all the girls' lives and all the odd characters that accompany them. The past intrudes further on the present when Sally Mae learns she may be charged with the murder of an old boyfriend from the days when she was an L.A. go-go dancer known as Mustang Sally. Together again, with Peaches's feisty spirit guiding them (plus a littlevoodoo help from a relative down South), the three remaining Justus Girlz prevail, proving the suitability of their name. A well-drawn cast and lively prose effectively balance this realistic portrait of the hardships and triumphs of black urban life.