September 25, 2020

Novel Lives

Book Publicity, Reviews, Author Interviews, and Discussion Posts by Susan Crosby

New York Times Best Selling Author Tiffany D. Jackson Continues Expanding Her Unique, Fearless Work With Grown- Releasing 9/15

Tiffany Jackson Retrospect- Updated

9/23/20 – Tiffany Jackson’s Grown Hits New York Times Best Seller List!

Disclaimer: This review of Tiffany Jackson’s Grown serves as an update to one of four of my favorite posts on this site. It is a post I wrote when Let Me Hear A Rhyme came out, last May. At that time, I wrote not just a review of Tiffany Jackson’s second book, but a collective homage to Tiffany Jackson’s work, as an author, and I hope, as a person. I initially became awarw of Tiffany Jackson when her first book, Allegedly came out. I attended, what would become, my last educational conference- ALAN-YA.

Coincidentally, it is also where I discovered: Adam Silvera, Neil Schusterman, and Holly Black. While I was already well aware of their work. I also had the tremendous honor of meeting, and hearing, both Jason Reynolds, and Angie Thomas speak. My point, and I do have one, is that I have always been a staunch and vocal advocate for Tiffany D. Jackson’s work for reasons that I could not always find succinct words for. However, I happened to see Jeff Zenter speak on a panel and he couldn’t have put it more perfectly.

Zenter said (and I’m paraphrasing only because at the time I wrote the original post, it had been over a year ago) when you read any of Tiffany D. Jackson’s books, she has the ability to take the vegetables (social issues- the most difficult of them, in multitudes) that we need and have to eat. But she does it in a way that wraps those vegetables up in a story that makes the reader feel like they are eating ice cream (that being a wickedly, twisted and entertaining story).

 

Tiffany Jackson

Thank You To Katherine Tegan For Arcs of Let Me Hear A Rhyme (at the time) and Grown in exchange for an honest review


This is essential because I don’t believe anyone in publishing (not young adult or adult) is doing what Tiffany Jackson is doing. I said that when Let Me Hear A Rhyme came out and I stand by it on the day that Grown releases.


Grown By Tiffany Jackson Review

The rest of the original post will continue after my review of Grown. And I hope that everyone will check it out because one of the things I learned when I posted it, and still find to this day, is that a shocking, disturbing, and depressing amount of people still don’t know who Tiffany Jackson is, or what a gifted talent she is.


And if I have to scream my throat raw (which, when the New York Times List dropped today? And Grown was on it? I did.) I will.

I will do whatever I have to do, to change it. If Katherine Tegan was willing to send me a case of books. I would carry them in my car (from Allegedly to Grown) and I would drive them to schools, libraries, wherever they wanted. I’d carry them with me, and leave them in mailboxes, hold giveaways, and pay for postage.

I do everything I can when I’m throwing books and on my website. That is a given. But if there was more? I would do it. Without a blink of an eye.


Six Months… Nine?

I keep saying six months. It has actually been more like nine months that I have been gagged to shut-up. Harper would not let me write this review of Grown. Part of that is my fault, fine. The second I downloaded Grown, I stopped everything. Then I did not leave my couch until it was done. That is Tiffany Jackson.

Once a year, I get this amazing experience where I am not only engaged in social issues where I am forced to value my “verbal shocks.” Verbal is in quotes only because I’m reading.

But I am, also, entrenched on an entertainment level that should be illegal. The combination of the two? For those of you reading it, in 2020. Let it be a “bright” spot on your bingo card. Bright is in quotes because of Grown’s topic. It isn’t bright, obviously.


Disclaimer:

I am always very clear when reviewing a book where things are outside of my lane on what I should and should not discuss. I mentioned it in the original post that this review of Grown is “technically,” serving to update. I am going to go ahead and state that claim again, along with an additional one.

  1. In the third section, I am going to list the themes and social issues that Grown addresses. However, I am not going to comment on them because I don’t believe that is my place, to do so. As far as these themes/social issues go, I believe it is my job to shut-up and listen to the community, about them. There are a couple of them that I have read about (non-fiction) or seen media curated by Black Creators. However, that does not make me an expert in any way but in #2.
  2. If you are white like I am. And you read the below list and want to come into my comments with comments such as
    • But white women experience a, b and c…
    • The same comments are made about all women

If #2 is you? Please disavow yourself of the notion that you are going to make those comments on this website.

I invite discussion. definitely invite others from the Black Community to tell me if anything I’ve written is harmful, incomplete, or misinterpreted. For whatever my list is, below. I am still looking through my lens and am sure to have missed important themes and will, without question, rewrite, fix, or take it down.

However, whatever the experience is of the white woman? That same experience, for Black Women, is ten times as harsh and life-threatening, soul-crushing, than for us. That is not invalidating anyone else’s life experiences. It is the truth. I have, without a doubt, suffered a couple of these traumatic experiences. They still haunt me. I don’t believe it is the same level of trauma as if I was a Black Woman. So, no. You will not come on my site and start that conversation. 


Grown By Tiffany Jackson

Grown to start is based on the events surrounding R. Kelly. The girls he abused for decades while making everyone believe they could fly. I remember that song being played at dances. As I got older, I remember hearing it and thinking, but wasn’t he accused, if not convicted, of raping underage girls? Why am I hearing this song a decade and more later? It never made sense to me. I never listened to it because I was sure it was the same person. It had to be. I wasn’t going to support it. But it bothered me, a lot. It wasn’t until the recent airing of Lifetime’s Surviving R. Kelly that I found out everything that had happened in all the time between those school dances and when I became batshit confused as to why that song was still on the air, and in commercials.

Within that initial starting point, Tiffany Jackson weaves many more themes and racial (micro or otherwise) that Black Women and Teenagers face in society, inner-struggles that Chanty expresses in her inner-dialogue with herself. It is also played out in her interactions with others. Again, I’m going to list them out and also, where I can, pull a couple of quotes that led me to list them (I may not be able to because of spoilers, in some cases). But beyond that, again, I’m not going to analyze them, because it isn’t my place to.


Themes

I don’t know if themes are the right word for everything in this list (probably not) but I don’t have a better word at the moment.

  1. Rape and Sexual Assault
  2. Mental Abuse and Abusive Relationships (which often includes #1)
    • How it starts with all the shiny promises and then slowly deteriorates
    • Almost without you knowing
    • And then the other personality comes out after you’ve lost touch with all you care about
    • They’ve been fed lies, you’ve been fed lies
    • And that makes that age-olf “you should have just left” not so simple because you have become not just isolated but blamed for that isolation.
  3. With one and two: Drug Addiction- without even knowing until you are addicted because it is slipped to you.
  4. Older men that are attracted to younger girls, period.
    • Putting the blame where it belongs.
  5. The pressure of (and perception or reality of) bringing your family out of poverty
  6. Status symbols in entertainment and their inner-circle of protectors- again the money factor of what they provide those people to look the other way
    • When it starts- I’m sure a lot of people are going to want to judge Chanty for believing this older, famous singer could be interested in her
    • But – why? I will comment just because of celebrity. I have no issue believing that a 17-year old could meet someone famous and be blinded to the fact that they are getting texted by their favorite singer. Then that person is wooing them, offering their dream to them. And then not wake-up to reality, until it’s too late. Some teenagers would find that sketchy. But MANY, myself included, probably, would have been pretty blind.
  7. When you take all of the above. You have to look at: Blaming the victim
  8. With Grown, the cover is important.
    • There is a lot around wigs that he wants Chanty to wear and a lot of inner dialogue around how she feels, and how it makes her feel
  9. High-school reality (and I’m just going to throw a couple of quotes out)

Parkwood High School is the only private one in the county that doesn’t have a strict dress code, but the student handbook specifically says no hats, no short skirts, no “distracting” hairstyles.

Yeah, I can read between the words unsaid there, too. I solved that problem by shaving off my locs. But somehow, my presence is still distracting.

My goggles are tight, but on purpose. I hate when chlorine slips through the crevices and I end up with red eyes like I’ve been smoking a blunt. Not that I’d know what that’s like but being one of the ten black students in the entire school…. the stupid assumption would be too easy.


Characters

Chanty is a girl with a dream. She wants to be a singer and at the very moment, that dream doesn’t come true? Along comes this handsome star and he offers her everything. Chanty thinks she’s grown. But she isn’t. Through her actions and dialogue. Tiffany Jackson demonstrates that she isn’t it. But see, it doesn’t matter. That isn’t the point. He knew better, as the hashtag goes. Or at least, he sure as hell should have.

Chanty wanted so much to believe in this dream. That he was her everything. Her dream, love, and forever. And when her friends and family warned her, distrusted it. She believed it for them until they believed it too. And then Jackson wrote Korey as perfectly as she wrote Chanty. The Jeckell/Hyde personality switched on and off that gave me blood-curling whiplash.

He wasn’t the Korey in the study that sang with Chanty, related to her, and wooed her into believing he was her everything. Now he was barking at her to get off her phone. He was convincing her that every time he snapped at her, it was her fault. And that her family and friends weren’t showing up because they didn’t care. When really, he wasn’t telling them. And that’s just the start of how good he played the nice Korey and how sinister the true Korey really was.

I can’t talk a whole lot about the supporting cast without spoiling a lot. When you see them, though? They are essential and powerful. I’ll leave it there. Tiffany Jackson will tell you the rest.


Multiple Worlds

It isn’t just that Tiffany Jackson created multiple places- where Chanty came from, her high school, her home, in Grown. And then the life she has with Korey, on the road. And then what life is like when he turns into the Korey she can’t recognize. The one she blames herself for.

Jackson also builds emotional worlds. Chanty is forced to compartmentalize some much of what is happening to her out of a sheer need to survive, because of the trauma that is inflicted. In the moment that it starts and as it continues to worsen, Chanty is constantly in a state of trying to sort things out. There are multiple fronts hitting her at once that are severely traumatic. And again, I can’t say what all of them are, but they cause a dynamic within her mind.

Because it is a first-person narrative, it was crucial that readers experience all of these different emotional states through Chanty. Those emotional states are almost as erratic at times as Korey’s and because of that, it is disruptive and impactful on whatever physical setting they may be in. That illuminates and heightens the suspense, impact, and reality of not just the ice cream of the story but the vegetables, as well.


Before I Jump Back In Time To A Year Ago…

From start to end Grown is a fast-paced mystery, a thriller that doesn’t stop. It will keep readers enthralled from the first word till the last. That is wrapped up in various themes that speak to the Black Girl/Woman experience. That means that it is just as important for white women, as much as Black Women to read it. Because we need to stop being ignorant, blind, or uncaring to these plights. We need to shut up and listen. We need to understand more and better.

Also, we need to read more diversely within diversity. Legendborn by Tracy Deonn comes out today, for example. It is not entered in Black Trauma. Read it, too. I am. I’m creating a whole table for non-trauma centered works by Black Authors/Black Main Characters at the bookstore. Both are essential. Both need to be lifted up. There are so many amazing works coming out. Whatever your genre, your reading preference (no one is asking anyone to read genres they don’t like- I am not- you don’t have to- there’s plenty to find), find books that will remove your blinders and those that are just great reads. And review them, share them, discuss them. Support them.


Now… From May 2019—

Before I Get To Let Me Hear A Rhyme By Tiffany Jackson

First, both Allegedly and Monday’s Not Coming came out before my blog started. So, this is the first Tiffany D. Jackson book I have had to review. It is everything and more. Second, it has become woefully aware to me during my time reviewing books, how few people are aware of Tiffany D. Jackson’s work and that breaks my heart.

I couldn’t do justice to Let Me Hear a Rhyme without at least introducing those that are not yet aware of what makes her work unique; the epitome of reaching those that otherwise have not the exposure, or do have the ability to ignore injustice with a riveting plot that seizes you from the first page, and doesn’t let go until the final gut punch that leaves you breathless and renders you forever changed. Last, it is impossible to review any book by Tiffany D. Jackson without giving away the entire book. The less you know going in, the more you’ll enjoy it.


                        Allegedly And Monday’s Not Coming By Tiffany D. JacksonMonday's Not Coming; Hardcover; Author - Tiffany D. Jackson
Related image

 

What I can do, is what I did above. I can talk about “the vegetables.” I can even tell you about <some of> the ice cream. I tried not to do that with the first two novels for fear of this post becoming a novel unto itself. However, that is about as far as I can go. And that isn’t nearly enough.

 

 

 

 

Recently, I had an incredible conversation about Tiffany D. Jackson’s first book, Allegedly, with someone that broke down at least a half-dozen social issues including, but not limited to, the juvenile incarceration system, the profiting prison system, mismanaged group homes, post-incarceration leading to the broken cyclical system of poverty, and who is responsible for how broken these children become. Thus, leading to the further actions and consequences of a system based on keeping marginalized people down rather than providing support, solutions and ways to lift them up- breaking that cycle.

Were that conversation repeated around Monday’s Not Coming,  I have no doubt that it would repeat. However, the discussion would surround the blind-eye of justice in DC when it comes to missing African American girls. In addition, the broken Child and Protective Service Agencies that serve not just DC, but cities across the nation because these are the social issues that inspired Jackson’s second novel.

Stats and quotes regarding Monday’s Not Coming below:


April 2019 Stats On Missing African-American Girls

In an article published in April 2019 by the Washington Informer the following stat was given:

More than 424,066 girls of all races have gone missing since the beginning of 2018, according to NCMEC. More than half of that total are women and girls of color, according to BAM, which, like NCMEC, rely on statistics from the FBI.

You would think someone would have developed a task force or do something. But no. That number has just continued to grow. In an article from Bustle (I highly suggest you read the entire article… Jackson stated:

I incorporated the way kids slip through the cracks in the system, the way there is no immediate sense of urgency when black teen girls go missing, and lifted parts of their tragic end. I also focused on the media bias when it comes to reporting about missing white children vs. missing children of color. Coincidentally, when I turned in the book to my editor, the hashtag #missinggirlsDC had just gone viral.


Let Me Hear A Rhyme

So here is what I can tell you about Let Me Hear a Rhyme. In regards to everything mentioned in Jackson’s previous works? Checkmate.

Steph is a budding musician with so much to give to the world when a senseless shooting ends his young life. No one is talking about it, no one seems to care. Least of all the cops but his closest friends and sister want answers. Aiming to find out what happened and let his music see the light of day, they find his unfinished songs and give them their time in the sun. Starting in clubs, everything is going great until a label hears it and wants to sign Steph.

Except, of course, Steph is dead. Why let death stop you? The plan is hatched and they go along with dead Steph signing a record deal with said record company oblivious to their dead star. When the secret of Steph’s death and the circumstances around it come to light? Everything starts to unravel, and spiral out of control. Soon the trio realizes that trying to outrun death is one thing. Outrunning the secrets left in the wake of death, secrets still held by the living is impossible.


Privilege and Judgement-

SHUT UP

Before continuing, I need to qualify the following because while I was born and raised in Brooklyn, before moving to the Midwest at 32, I am Brooklyn-Italian, white- Caucasian.
That doesn’t give me any right to say I understand or have even learned to understand what it was like then or now to be a person of color in any part of this country, Brooklyn included.

Brooklyn wasn’t a picnic for anyone when I was growing up. But that gives me no right or space to claim any voice in this discussion. What I can do? Is shut up, read, learn, and have a sense of moral compassion, empathy, and foremost lack of judgment. 

Anyone who judges Jazz for relating to Malcolm X’s beliefs, or why a character falls into dealing drugs? SHUT UP. You want to judge Jackson for writing those characters and their choices? SHUT UP. You had privilege, choice, and didn’t know. You weren’t there. I don’t know and so it isn’t my place to say anything. It is only my place to shut up, listen, and learn what I didn’t know about any of it and shamefully understand how little I knew then and how little has changed in almost forty years.


I Wrote This Over A Year Ago… And Yet… 

(I.e I wrote this over a year ago when reviewing Let Me Hear A Rhyme) Police brutality, talented lives cut off too soon, young lives left behind and now traumatized forever, poverty, and desperate “choices” are all dealt with throughout the storyline in Let Me Hear a Rhyme. Testing the strength of friendship, love, and the ability to find where you stand, along with the willingness to fight for it, at all costs are at its core.


Tiffany Jackson Wrote The Shit Out OF It

First, there is interwoven music and pop culture of the nineties that are utilized brilliantly. I won’t pretend to know all of it, but I knew some of it and it brought back a lot of memories. Hell, the way Tiffany D. Jackson brought Brooklyn to life as a character in ways that you would only understand if you lived there? It made me smile and rarely, if at all, do I miss my hometown. See people assume that if you are from NYC, you’ve seen the world. They don’t get it. If you live in Brooklyn? Queens might as well be France. You are lucky if you leave your five-block radius in a year, let alone any given day. Jackson gets it.


The Ice Cream… Wait For It…

How about the ice cream you ask? How can you take all that heavy… the vegetables and make it digestible and accessible… the ice cream? Well. Let me tell you. This is a bit of a contrast to the “ice cream” parts of Monday’s Not Coming and Allegedly, which offered the entertaining storyline up in a much more dark and twisted fashion that doubled down on Shonda Rhimes territory. However, make no mistake, this was incredibly twisty and irresistibly fun.


Remember That Movie? Weekend At Bernie’s?

Well maybe you don’t

These two guys trying to get ahead in a company find out someone is embezzling large sums of money at this company they work for. Thinking they are going to be handsomely rewarded; they tell the CEO. However, it is the CEO that is embezzling and he’s doing it for some very dangerous people.

They have decided he’s gotten a bit sloppy. So, when Bernie (CEO) invites the kids over to his house in the Hamptons, he thinks it is so his dangerous crew can kill them.

Except, SURPRISE! They kill Bernie to pin it on the kids. Double surprise! The kids freak out and run around the Hamptons with a dead Bernie all weekend. I’m not saying Jackson got the idea for parts of Let’s Hear a Rhyme from Weekend at Bernie’s but, I think I remember a tweet where she mentioned it but don’t quote me on it.


Either Way

I certainly had flashbacks to it that were highly entertaining.  Until it couldn’t be anymore.

But as I stated before, there is just no way to explain what that means without all the spoilers and leaving you to form your own view of the vegetables. And that is what Tiffany Jackson does. And she’s the only one doing it.

It is a better publishing world, a better world period, for having her put the gift of her talent into it. If you don’t know her talent. If you don’t know the causes upon which she stands? You are doing life wrong.

 

I said that in May of 2019 and I will day on that hill still today, and I imagine for as long as Tiffany Jackson continues writing books.

 

 

FINALLY TO SEE GROWN AND TIFFANY JACKSON ON THE NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER LIST IS INSANE…

%d bloggers like this: