If Sons, then Heirs by Lorene Cary broke my heart by page 5. This was an especially bad thing to do since I was just peeking at the book. It showed up in my post office box near the end of the semester and I knew I wouldn't be able to touch it for weeks. It taunted me on my bookshelf. The first time in a long time a book called out to be read. When I finally got a chance to start reading it, I devoured it.
The story begins with 30-year-old Rayne searching for the mother who put him on a train to his grandfather's house at age 7 and then never had him return. The story plays out as if Rayne was adopted by strangers rather than his grandfather and great-grandmother, Nana Stella. Adoption is a major thread in the story as if that quest of "Who am I?" To ensure a secure retirement for his great-grandmother, he ends up having to dig up past tragedies, secrets and face the fact that his own sad tale springs from one fateful day long before his mother was even born.
The story centers on what is called "heir property," a term used for the plot of land given to one of the ancestors by their former slave master. Thus I got quite a lesson in life during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow South. Don't get me wrong, I knew facts, but what Cary does here is place those facts into lives. She makes the facts live, love and die. She makes them human. Rayne recollects the first time he heard a lynching story. His Uncle Jones tells it to him over Nana Stella's objections. "Jones didn't tell Rayne this story to cripple him, but only to let him know not to believe how things look on the surface; people lie." The harsh reality of life for African-Americans in the South is on almost every page. It's not presented as if they are victims. Rather this family is strong, hella strong.
Cary crafts a beautiful tale of love, family and forgiveness. The characters she created jump off the page, even Nana Stella shuffling along with her walker.And she turns phrases that are just delicate and powerful, like a ballerina taking a leap of faith. By the end of the book, you will feel a part of the Needham family.
I should also warn you that the last third to quarter of the book is a whole box of tissues. I warn because I read the last bits of the book in coffee houses and took all my strength to not bawl like a baby at points. And I was crying the good cry. But there are sad cries too.
Do I even need to tell you click over and buy yourself a copy from IndieBound or Powells? Really? Because really, this is great book. If you like your summer reading to be good and not just fluffy, this is the book for you.
AUTHOR CHAT: Lorene Cary will be chatting about this book on Sunday, 6/12 for #blacklitchat at 7pm.
Disclaimers: A publicist offered me a copy for review.
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