How It Happens

Wayne State Univ. Pr. (Great Lakes Books). Sept. 2021. 240p. pap. $18.99. ISBN 9780814348697.
Gr 9 Up–In 1890, Addie Jackson is an African American laundress who works at a boarding house operated by white people in Clarksville, Tennessee. She is coerced into a sexual relationship by Tom Mitchell, a white boarder from a prominent Confederate family, despite the fact that she is married. She bears three biracial daughters for Tom amid anti-miscegenation laws, small-town gossip, and marital strife. In 1922, Addie’s middle daughter, Dorothy May Jackson, is given an opportunity for college in Nashville. She faces a dilemma when she must choose between a teaching career at the Clarksville Colored School and living a new life in Detroit as the wife of entrepreneur Douglas Ford, a man whom she barely knows. Between 1949 and 1951, Addie’s granddaughter, Jean Ford, faces class conflicts and two attempted sexual assaults while working at a recreation center. She faces a harsh reality when she receives a failing grade from a racist college professor. She ends up choosing between a teaching career and married life as family secrets are revealed. Elster has written an eloquent YA novel based on her own maternal family history. Readers will appreciate the intergenerational stories of Addie, Dorothy May, and Jean. They will enjoy and treasure their strength, determination, and resilience amid racism, abuse, conflicting gender roles, and family secrets.
VERDICT This triumphant volume of Black women’s stories will engage readers. A strong choice of YA collections.

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