This story of an African-American girl who beats the odds is certainly familiar, but Bailey-Williams's spare narration and concise prose establish her as a new author with a powerful voice and plenty to say. Song Byrd was born into the ghetto of North Philadelphia with an absent father, a mother who turns to prostitution, a sister who steals to support her drug habit and a brother who winds up in prison for raping an elderly woman. What saves Song is her inner strength and the attentions of a neighbor named Miss Olga, but her pivotal break comes on the heels of tragedy, when her mother is shot by the girlfriend of one of her paramours. Song moves in with her father, although the girl still battles the guilt she feels over her mother's death. That guilt leads to a revelatory sequence of chapters in which Song sees a therapist and comes to terms with her past, while negotiating a new relationship with a young man named Anthony. The narrative appeals, but what really makes the book work is the incisive, succinct and compelling prose, which turns a simple story into an insightful character exploration. Bailey-Williams's success will ultimately rest on her ability to take her plots in different directions, but this debut marks her as a promising figure in this genre. Agent, Kate Garrick. (Oct. 8) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
This familiar story of an African American girl who somehow manages to beat the odds is lifted above similar tales by concise and evocative prose that often reads like free verse. The scenes of Song Byrd's early life in the ghetto are the best, providing stark descriptions that make the reader feel as if he or she were there. Song has everything going against her-a bad neighborhood, an absentee father, a prostitute mother, a drug-addicted sister, and a rapist brother. What she has on her side are her kindly neighbor, Miss Olga, a strong sense of self, and her refusal to become a victim. When her mother is murdered, Song goes to live with her father and proves that she can thrive, attending college and then becoming a successful fundraiser for foundations that help kids who are in the same situations she once was. She is held back by the guilt she still feels from her mother's death, but with the help of a therapist and an understanding young man named Anthony, she frees herself at last. More an in-depth character study through connected vignettes than a plot-driven piece, this novel will draw teens through the gritty realism of Song's early life to cheer when things finally turn around for her. This debut novel from an English teacher turned freelance writer and cohost of a radio literary review program is recommended for most libraries serving older teens, especially where contemporary realistic fiction is popular. VOYA Codes: 3Q 4P J S (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2002, Broadway Books/Random House, 161p,
Like a gifted quilter, Bailey-Williams has stitched together the pieces of a woman's life to form a seamless portrait of survival and healing. As a child, Song Byrd is burdened with poverty and abuse: her alcoholic single mother locks her in the bathroom, her sister steals to buy drugs, and one brother is always in jail, while the other is a wanderer. When Song's mother is murdered, her life takes a sudden and unexpected turn, and she must confront feelings of guilt as she grows up. Bailey-Williams, a high school English teacher, has written a debut that reads like an urban diary, filled with hardships but also acts of love and kindness, told matter-of-factly and without melodrama. Her refusal to make Song a victim is refreshing, and her ability to convey so much feeling in so few words makes this novel almost a prose poem. Highly recommended, particularly for young adults. [Harlem Moon is a new paperback imprint focusing on books for African Americans.-Ed.]-Ellen Flexman, Indianapolis-Marion Cty. P.L., IN Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
"Searingly beautiful. Mrs. Bailey-Williams' impressive debut is nuanced, stark, and astonishing."
-Diane McKinney-Whetstone, author of Blues Dancing
"Crisp, clean, and clear narration. Nicole Bailey-Williams has got what it takes, and you've got to read it."
-Omar Tyree, author of For the Love of Money
"In a word, captivating. I found myself instantly drawn into Song's world, a place filled with emotion, struggle, and eventual triumph. We can only hope to see more page-turning works by this vibrant new voice on the literary scene." -Patricia Haley, author of Nobody's Perfect
"A powerful voice that moves smoothly between narrative and poignant drama. Her clear and fresh voice reads like poetry." -William July II, author of Understanding the Tin Man