Maya and her older brother Bailey are on their way to live with their Grandmother and Uncle Willie in Stamps, a little town in the South. Their parents couldn’t take care of them after their divorce and Momma decided to take them in. Momma is a formidable woman, owning her own shop, in which Maya and Bailey have to work very often. The family is respected in Stamps, going to Church every Sunday and doing a lot of good work for the Community.
It’s pretty much a monotounous way of living. Getting up early, do some chores in the shop, go to school and after school do some chores and homework.
But when Maya and Bailey are 8 and 9 years old, they move back with their mother who lives in California together with mister Freeman. It’s a tremendous shock for the children, but they adapt quick and soon life is pretty fun. But mister Freeman isn’t the nice man he pretends to be. When Mother is off to work, he rapes Maya and treathens to kill Bailey if Maya tells anyone about it. Scared to death she keeps her mouth shut but the truth comes out and the children are sent back to Stamps.
Maya and Bailey are part of pingpong game, moving back and forth to Stamps. The constantly moving forms their identity more than it should and Maya finds herself more than once in a awkward position. It’s hard being a teenager, but it’s even harder being a black teenager.
I had to read this novel as a school assignment and I have to admit (much to my shame) that I had never read a novel by Maya Angelou before. So I was curious to know why her books are so famous.
Maya tells the story herself, telling how she experienced growing up with racism. The book is not about racism, but about how Maya herself was confronted with the topic and how she dealt (or not dealt) with it.
It’s an autobiography, so everything Maya tells is true. Considering this novel contains some cruel and harsh language and some shocking events, it made me fall silent sometimes.
Another great aspect of this novel is religion. Every page is drenched with religion. And that bothered me sometimes. I know it was a big part of Maya’s life, but still it got on my nerves sometimes. It’s not really in perspective, I think. There are some really important events in this novel that only get three pages or so, while there are passages about Religion that go on and on… Maybe that’s just me, but it irritated me sometimes.
I have some really mixed feelings about this novel. On the one hand: everyone should read this novel, it’s a interesting ‘story’. And in light of recent events in the US, it may be a good read for everyone. On the other hand: the writing style didn’t work for me. But the message definitely got across, and I think that’s the most important thing.
Publisher: Bantam Books (1993). First published in 1970