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The Star Side of Bird Hill
Cover of The Star Side of Bird Hill
The Star Side of Bird Hill
A Novel
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Two sisters are suddenly sent from their home in Brooklyn to Barbados to live with their grandmother, in this stunning debut novel This lyrical novel of community, betrayal, and love centers on an...
Two sisters are suddenly sent from their home in Brooklyn to Barbados to live with their grandmother, in this stunning debut novel This lyrical novel of community, betrayal, and love centers on an...
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  • Two sisters are suddenly sent from their home in Brooklyn to Barbados to live with their grandmother, in this stunning debut novel

    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.

    Praise for The Star Side of Bird Hill

    "Jackson has written a first novel full of heart and heartbreak, a novel about going home, about the ties that bind three generations of women across years and despite absence. It is a bittersweet lesson in learning to recognize love."
    —Ayana Mathis, author of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (Oprah's Book Club 2.0 selection)

    "Naomi Jackson has written a tender novel exploring the complexities of motherhood and childhood. The Star Side of Bird Hill holds together opposing elements—the book is quiet in the telling, but the story being told is sharp and vibrant. It is as much a story of the fears of childhood as it is a story about welcoming old age with optimism. A book that knows death and discovery. A book laced with pain but shimmering with hope. With care, the narrative addresses huge issues, such as mental illness, mortality, sexuality, and, at its very core, what it means to love another person as they are."
    —Tiphanie Yanique, author of Land of Love and Drowning

Excerpts-

  • From the book The people on the hill liked to say that God's smile was the sun shining down on them. In the late after­noon, before scarlet ibis bloodied the view of sunset, light flooded the stained-glass windows of Bird Hill Church of God in Christ, illuminating the renderings of black saints from Jesus to Absalom Jones. When there wasn't prayer meeting, choir rehearsal, Bible study, or Girl Guides, the church was empty except for its caretaker, Mr. Jeremiah. It was his job to chase the children away from the cem­etery that sloped down behind the church, his responsibility to shoo them from their perches on graves that dotted the backside of the hill the area was named for. Despite his best intentions, Mr. Jeremiah's noontime and midnight devotionals at the rum shop brought on long slumbers, when children found freedom to do as they liked among the dead.

    Dionne Braithwaite was two weeks fresh from Brooklyn, and Barbados's fierce sun had already transformed her skin from its New York shade of caramel to a brick red. She was wear­ing foundation that was too light for her skin now. It came off in smears on the white handkerchiefs she stole from her grandmother's chest of drawers, but she wore it anyway, because makeup was her tether to the life she'd left back home.

    Dionne was sixteen going on a bitter, if beauti­ful, forty-five. Although she thought herself above the things the children on Bird Hill did, she liked the hiding place the graveyard behind the church provided.

    Dionne's younger sister, Phaedra, played tag among the miniature graves of children, all casual­ties of the 1955 cholera outbreak. Nineteen girls and one boy had died before the hill folks abandoned their suspicion of the world in general and doctors in particular to seek help from "outside people." This was just one of the stories that Dionne and Phaedra's mother sum­moned as evidence for why she left the hill the first chance she got.

    Phaedra and her sister arrived from Brooklyn at the beginning of the summer. Phaedra was small for her ten years. Her skin had darkened to a deep cacao from run­ning in the sun all day in spite of her grandmother's protests. She wore her hair in a French braid, its length tucked away from the girls who threatened her after reading about Samson and Delilah in Sunday school. Glimpses of Phaedra's future beauty peeked out from behind her pink heart-shaped glasses, which were held together with scotch tape.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 18, 2015
    Jackson's debut novel is a bittersweet coming-of-age tale of heartbreak and loss. Dionne and Phaedra, 16 and 10, are two sisters who go to Barbados in the summer of 1989, in the care of their grandmother Hyacinth, when their depressed mother is no longer able to take care of them in New York. Dionne acts out and meets boys, while Phaedra immerses herself in her grandmother's world. When their circumstances suddenly change and dictate a more permanent stay in Barbados, the girls are angry and confused. Their unfamiliar situation is further compounded by the reappearance of their long-gone father. He presents a chance to return to America, if they can trust him, and if they choose to leave their grandmother. Jackson's story becomes stronger and stronger as we get to know these characters. The themes she touches on—mental illness, immigration, motherhood, sexual awakening—are potent and deftly juggled, anchored in the vivid locale of Bird Hill yet universally relatable. Readers will be turning the pages to follow Phaedra and Dionne's memorable journey.

  • Kirkus

    May 1, 2015
    Sixteen-year-old Dionne Braithwaite and her 10-year-old sister, Phaedra, are sent to the tiny town of St. John, Barbados, to stay with their grandmother while their mother, Avril, recovers from a long depression. Avril, a nurse, has been overwhelmed with sadness after witnessing the deaths of her patients to AIDS following the sudden disappearance of her abusive husband, Errol. With Avril unable to take care of her family, it was Dionne who took on the responsibility of caring for her mother and her little sister. But in her grandmother's house in Barbados, Dionne doesn't need to take care of anyone but herself-and she finds it unnerving. Phaedra, however, fits right in-to her, Barbados feels like the home Brooklyn never was-and she gleefully absorbs the stories of her mother's people. The mystery of what happened to Avril to weight her life with such sadness fuels the book, becoming the driving force behind Dionne's desire to discover the pieces of Avril left behind in her old Barbados bedroom. But as Avril delays returning to take the girls back to Brooklyn, Dionne begins to act out and make unwise relationship decisions, leading her grandmother to believe she's on her way to becoming the kind of "easy" girl who lets herself be used by men. What Dionne's grandmother doesn't realize is that the one thing Dionne had learned from watching Avril was "that if you wanted to keep a man, he should love you at least a little bit more than you loved him"-one of many moments of awareness that permeate this delightful debut novel. An engrossing and poignant coming-of-age story populated with engaging, well-drawn characters.

    COPYRIGHT(2015) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from June 1, 2015

    With this work, Fulbright scholar and Iowa Writers' Workshop graduate Jackson joins her peer Angela Flourney, author of the just-published The Turner House, in continuing the rich tradition of African American storytelling. In the summer of 1989, the mentally fragile Avril sends her daughters, ten-year-old Phaedra and 16-year-old Dionne, to visit their grandmother in Bird Hill, Barbados, while she works to build a better foundation for them after their father leaves her destitute. The island provokes culture shock in Dionne, who misses her life in Brooklyn and rebels against her grandmother. Phaedra, on the other hand, feels at home on the island, as she draws wisdom from the grandmother she barely knew. Interestingly, Avril, who rarely appears in the narrative, is the glue that binds everyone together, including the father who shows up after her death to claim his daughters. The writing is especially fine, with even minor characters benefiting from Jackson's lyrical descriptions. VERDICT Recalling Toni Morrison's Love, this work will appeal to fans of African American and literary fiction.--Ashanti White, Yelm, WA

    Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • School Library Journal

    Starred review from February 1, 2016

    Two sisters-Dionne, 16, and Phaedra, 11-are suddenly shipped off from Brooklyn to Barbados by their mother in the summer of 1989 to live with their grandmother, a midwife and practitioner of obeah, because their mother can no longer take care of them. The siblings struggle to find their places at Hyacinth's home in Bird Hill: Dionne longs to fall in love and return to New York; Phaedra immerses herself in her grandmother's practice. They discover family secrets and are confronted with their long-absent father, who comes to reclaim them. Soon, the sisters have to choose between familiar Brooklyn and the island. In this lyrical debut, the two protagonists come of age against the backdrop of the sumptuous and vibrant Bird Hill, Barbados. Woven throughout are tender moments of love and loss, along with deep issues such as mental illness, sexuality, and betrayal. The protagonists are multilayered and nuanced, and the island becomes a character in itself. Equally heartbreaking and triumphant, this narrative is filled with the pain and hope of growing up. VERDICT Unforgettable characters, a lush setting, and family drama will keep teens reading this deft and stunning work.-Shelley Diaz, School Library Journal

    Copyright 2016 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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