Saint Monkey by Jacinda Townsend
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I'm going to take a risk here and predict that Saint Monkey will become a classic. Pookie and Audrey are first neighbors, then lifelong frenemies. Actually, "frenemy" describes merely the surface of their relationship. They are star crossed soul mates bound tightly together, testing, loving, hurting, disappointing and seeking each other throughout their entire lives.
Born in the "Colored" part of a tiny Appalachian town in Kentucky during the 40s, they have big dreams. Pookie will go to Hollywood. Audrey is afraid that she doesn't have the guts to do it herself. The story is told in their voices, in alternating chapters. They are both unreliable narrators, so readers have to fill in the blanks and wonder why the girls tell their stories the way they do. I often thought about who was more alone, who was more loved, who loved best, who knew themselves the most.
Audrey "escapes" and gets a job at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem playing piano, while Pookie is left back home to wonder why Audrey "made it" and not her. I won't tell you any more than that because I don't want to spoil a plot with lots of satisfying twists and turns. These twists and turns are more than entertainment--they are are symbolic and emotional manifestations of Saint Monkey's themes of love and self knowledge.
Saint Monkey is set in the Civil Rights Era, and lots of important events are worked into the plot. Readers will gain a deeper knowledge and a painful understanding of African Americans and whites who lived through those times as well as those who came before them.
The book is slow to start and Townsend throws a lot of characters at you, fast. Don't worry if you can't keep them straight! Just keep going. By the third chapter you'll know everyone. Take time to enjoy the beautiful imagery and dialogue. When you finish, you will be rewarded with a deeply moving literary experience.
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