The Star Side of Bird Hill, by Naomi Jackson
Print Length: 294 pages
Publisher: Penguin Press (June 30, 2015)
Publication Date: June 30, 2015
Book Description: This lyrical novel of community, betrayal, and love centers on an unforgettable matriarchal family in Barbados. Two sisters, ages ten and sixteen, are exiled from Brooklyn to Bird Hill in Barbados after their mother can no longer care for them. The young Phaedra and her older sister, Dionne, live for the summer of 1989 with their grandmother Hyacinth, a midwife and practitioner of the local spiritual practice of obeah.
Dionne spends the summer in search of love, testing her grandmother’s limits, and wanting to go home. Phaedra explores Bird Hill, where her family has lived for generations, accompanies her grandmother in her role as a midwife, and investigates their mother’s mysterious life.
This tautly paced coming-of-age story builds to a crisis when the father they barely know comes to Bird Hill to reclaim his daughters, and both Phaedra and Dionne must choose between the Brooklyn they once knew and loved or the Barbados of their family.
Jackson’s Barbados and her characters are singular, especially the wise Hyacinth and the heartbreaking young Phaedra, who is coming into her own as a young woman amid the tumult of her family.
Reading Sara Review: When I first heard of this book, the plot did not immediately capture me – but I kept seeing it on blogs and review sites that I trust, so I decided to give it a shot. I did not fly through this book, but ended up taking my time to be invested in the story and in the characters. I ended up loving this coming of age story. Put simply, Dionne and Phaedra are living with their grandmother during a hot summer in the Barbados, passing time at Vacation Bible School, trying to make friends, meeting boys and learning about their family history while their mother is mysteriously ill. However, this story is anything but simple.
These two young girls, at an age being influenced by literally everything, each have their own distinct personalities, memories of their parents and visions for their future. The author’s writing style is distinct and invigorating. I wanted to learn more about the side-characters, such as Jean (a gay man, living with his mother and childhood best friend of Phaedra and Dionne’s mother), Mrs. Loving (the pastor’s wife, mother of the boys that Phaedra and Dionne hang out with), and certainly Hyacinth (their grandmother). Hyacinth was a character that believed in generational wisdom, stories for teaching lessons and the importance of family. While Phaedra and Dionne are dealing with their mother’s illness, Hyacinth is dealing with her daughter’s illness – someone that she does not even know anymore and cannot image going through all of this alone. Her voice and wisdom were a powerful part of this novel.
“Hyacinth just wanted to know that she could shift her weight to one side and it wouldn’t be just the air and the force of her will holding her up, but the support of her family too. Hyacinth thought life was not just easier, but sweeter with family by her side”- Naomi Jackson
This story brought me to another culture, a different family and a unique-close knit community that I admired. It was just a snippet of this family’s story, there is so much more to unravel about this family and the community of Bird Hill. Perhaps Naomi Jackson will be inspired for a second book?