Single Black Female
Single Black Female is a story about American life and how the color of your skin impacts what that’s like.
Ivy Donovan has been completely loyal to her man, Michael, during the many years he has been in prison. She has been putting his needs and wants before her own, working hard to make a success of her salon so that she can provide Michael with what he needs to be as comfortable as possible where he is, and to make sure their sons Kingston and Noah can choose a better path through life than Michael did. She wants more for her boys than hustling, burning bright but short like all the men in their father’s family have done. Ivy’s moved them from Brooklyn to Statten Island to make sure that happens. But the move has left her exhausted and the tale starts with a fight between her and Michael. She tells him she no longer wants to make the long trek up to visit him, that she needs a break from rearranging her life every couple of weeks just so she can come see him. He’s not pleased and threatens retribution.
Coco (Cara) Norris knows that everything she has built comes from the foundation laid by her brother Michael.
Coco had been in the fifth grade when their father-a hustler also- had been killed. Mikey was in high school, and he picked up the baton he felt their father had passed to him. Mikey hit the streets and ran headlong into the crack game, as if he felt that the responsibility to provide for the family fell squarely on his shoulders.
She feels obligated to visit, to call, to send letters – but like Ivy she feels she’s done a lot with the little Michael left her. Coco’s not sure anyone appreciates just how hard she’s worked for her prime position at a marketing firm. She knows for sure the men she’s dated don’t. When the latest loser spends a night getting down and dirty with her and then advises her in the morning he won’t be back because he’s marrying another girl he knocked up, she knows she needs to make changes. She lets her friend Nicky set her up with a guy named Ziggy. He’s not like anyone else she’s ever been with – but maybe that’s a good thing.
Deja Maddox’s boyfriend Rashid got sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit – but he also didn’t snitch on the guy who did. Deja testified for him at the trial and did all she could to get him set free, but the minute he was found guilty she bounced. Deja didn’t want to spend the next decade taking herself and her baby daughter Bree back and forth to visit her man in prison like Ivy has done with her kids. Deja got a degree, worked her way up the ladder as a high-end real estate agent and married Bobby, a police sergeant with the NYPD. He may bore her to tears and she may have to get her sexual satisfaction from her guy on the side but she’s built a great life for herself and Bree.
Then Rashid gets out of prison and decides he wants to develop a relationship with Bree. His presence is a catalyst, bringing unexpected changes to the womens’ lives and forcing them to examine if Black women can ever really Have It All.
This is a general fiction novel which takes a look at complicated family relationships and how they impact our lives. Ivy has spent more time being in a relationship with the incarcerated Michael than she ever spent with him while he was on the outside. That relationship has tied her to his problematic sister Patsy and Patsy’s sons, who are all in the same business Michael was. It has tied her to Coco, his sister, who also wants to be far away from the hustling lifestyle but is in turn tied to it by her love for her brother and sister. Rashid had gotten taken up with Michael as a known associate because he had been in the same gang. His return means Deja and Bree are now pulled back into the shadow of that life.
Easily the best part of this book is that the author shows the complex emotional aspect of this situation, which explains why the women couldn’t just build better lives by walking away from their old ones. Michael’s hustling enabled Ivy to have seed money to start her business, and allowed Coco to pursue her degree, so both women feel a sense of gratitude. Michael’s two sons may have spent little time with him, but they know how he provided for his family by what he did, appreciating that his actions weren’t selfish but necessary, and driven by concern for his kin. Rashid had paid off Deja’s mama’s mortgage and made sure they had cars to go to work with and food on the table. His generosity had kept them from being homeless. The men may bring danger and violence into their lives but have provided love, care and protection as well.
An important plot point is that the danger Rashid and Michael bring with them isn’t just because they are drug dealers, but has instead a great deal to do with being Black in America. Racism plays an important role not just in limiting the men’s choices for how they provide for their families, but how they are treated both in and out of the system. Ms. Brown does a really nice job of capturing the tension Black families live with and surprising us with how ordinary events can turn extraordinarily dangerous for them.
The book’s only flaw is that while presenting the rich emotional ties that keep Black families connected, it glosses over the very real costs of doing so, as well as the wealth of problems connected to the hustling lifestyle. Reading this novel, you receive the impression that the worst that can happen is imprisonment and the highest price paid by the families is sacrificing a day every couple of weeks to visit them. Everything bad – such as Michael’s father’s murder and Deja’s mom’s financial struggles – is in the past. People deal drugs but no one is addicted. Folks get roughed up but no one gets killed. Hood life is also glamorized – the excitement, the Instagram fame, the ready money are discussed, but no conversations take place about what it takes to get any of that.
The characterization really suffers as a result of this veneer. The ladies are presented as so fierce, so successful, so beautiful and so together that trouble practically bounces off of them. This makes them hard to relate to or feel empathy for. It also makes them difficult to distinguish – aside from their jobs and the names of their kids, the three leads are interchangeable.
That might have worked in a women’s fiction or romance novel which tackled lighter subjects, but in Single Black Female, dealing with some of the biggest issues affecting our culture today, it lessens the impact of the story, leaving it well written and interesting but not DIK material.
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I've been an avid reader since 2nd grade and discovered romance when my cousin lent me Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe in 7th grade. I currently read approximately 150 books a year, comprised of a mix of Young Adult, romance, mystery, women's fiction, and science fiction/fantasy.