“I am dead.” Natashia Deón’s luminous first novel Grace – which wrestles with the depredations of slavery and its aftermath – begins with those three words. Naomi, the novel’s central character, narrates her entire (far too short) life from beyond the grave. In a series of “flashes,” Naomi tells of how, at 15, she murders her master, who had systematically raped and “bred” Naomi’s mother. On the run, she finds refuge in a Georgia brothel run by Cynthia, with whom Naomi develops an uneasy and emotionally complex relationship. Just two years later, she must flee again, now pregnant with the child of a while man who abandoned her. Just after giving birth to her daughter, bounty hunters shoot Naomi dead.
Between the flashes, Naomi haunts her young daughter, Josey. Born blond, Josey is first adopted by a white woman and then later enslaved by her. Emancipation, when it comes, brings no relief from suffering. As a young teenager, Josey disassociates from reality after enduring rape at the hands of her mistress’s brother George. Meanwhile, Naomi, consumed with revenge, tries to avenge her daughter.
This book is not easy to read. Deón writes of a world consumed by suffering, grief, and terror; she has the rare ability to make readers experience these emotions along with Naomi and Josey. Grace is one of the best-written novels that I’ve read in some time. Both the plot and Deón’s prose are magical and harrowing.
Near the beginning of the novel, Naomi explains that justice is getting what you deserve, mercy is being spared the bad you deserve, and grace “is getting a good thing, even when you don’t deserve it.” She explains that, had she lived, she would have named her daughter Grace. Deón’s novel explores a time in American history when justice, mercy, and grace were not easy to find. But Deón manages, in this outstanding novel, to deliver all three.
Review Submitted by: Kaitlyn Grigsby
Rating: Must Read
Challenge: Book published in 2016. Book with a one-word title.