Saturday, May 21, 2016

Grace by Natashia Deón, an affecting novel of freedom and motherhood in the antebellum South

Given the chance, Naomi, a 17-year-old slave in rural Alabama in 1848, would have named her daughter Grace, but she is shot and killed moments after giving birth. In her gripping debut novel, Deón, awarded a PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellowship, among other honors, dramatizes alliances formed by women in a violent place and time with adroit characterizations, a powerful narrative voice, and the propulsive plotting of a suspense novel.

Kept lingering in the afterlife through her love for her daughter, Josey, Naomi tells the story in two intertwined strands. One traces her earlier life via flashbacks, covering her flight to Georgia after a deadly confrontation, her rescue by a female brothel owner with her own secretive past, and her falling in love with a white gambler. In the other, Naomi follows blonde, light-skinned Josey as she grows up before, during, and after emancipation, which hardly brings the liberty the former slaves hope for.

Naomi’s unique situation is movingly evoked: she offers Josey tender maternal advice, which goes unheard, and is unable to protect her from painful realities. Deón stays in control of her complex material, from its clever parallel structure to the women’s psychological reactions to relentless tension. Readers will ache for these strong characters and yearn for them to find freedom and peace.

Grace is officially published by Counterpoint in June (hardcover, $25, 400pp), but Amazon has copies in stock now.  This starred review first appeared in Booklist's April 15th issue.  I was pleased to see, later on, that Kirkus and Publishers Weekly had also published starred reviews.  This is a book that has important things to say about the American past, and it deserves widespread attention.


  1. Sounds deep and necessary. Adding it to my to-read list.

    1. I'd agree with that. Hope you get the chance to read it.