It has been a long time, a lifetime, really, that I've wanted to read a good book, pieces of literature, about people like me. Girls who grew up post Civil Rights, post slavery, modern. I wanted to feel a connection in my now two-year-quest to read black female literature.
I stumbled upon this book while at a local, annual book fair. I tucked it on my bookshelf, it patiently waiting its turn to be read, after the many literary volumes and book club reads. The cover (original, not the sexed up one) kept beckoning me, so, being the multi-tasker that I am, I decided to start reading the book at night, a few pages at a time. I was not disappointed.
Shifting Through Neutral is a beautiful coming-of-age book about a girl reconciling her placement in a not-so-nuclear family. Rae graduated from high school in 1980, that decade turning point that brought Reagan as president, big hair, and the birth of a modern time that we are still experiencing. Her growing up, however, was during the idyllic mid-to-late-seventies when children could just ride their bikes without worry about kidnappings or other evils. When someone was at home and everyone on the street knew your name.
I also shared a familiarity with her in her home state of Michigan. I spent my growing up between Jefferson City and Benton Harbor, MI. I knew about Detroit thrusting many people into the middle class and the promise of a "good job" that would take you through life. I knew about Ann Arbor and Seven Mile Road. Detroit was a big city that I never visited my entire childhood and only once as an adult.
Rae and I also shared something else, a longing for a mother who wasn't there, mine through death and hers through abandonment down South to a love more powerful than her motherhood. We also shared a mutual adoring of our fathers and an utter loss-of-self when our father's passed away (hers right after her graduation, mine when I was 35).
This book by Bridgett M. Davis was written in the first person and while fiction, felt like the knowing retelling of a life really lived, experience really had, a memoir.
The big, wide shouldered, doorway big father JD, loved his baby girl Rae and was scared back home from his true love during the 1968 riots. He endured physical illness and bitter separation from a wife who was ensconced in an upstairs attack, her heart several states away with her Creole first love and Creole daughter who only visited one wonderful summer of Rae's life. The father either didn't or couldn't move beyond that den he shared with his daughter only until his sister from down south told him that had to end, separating two souls who needed each other's physical presence to feel alive. Rae needed the comfort of her big father's wide back that was both her cradle and her slumber from the time of her birth since she was rejected by her mother. He, having given up the promise of a beautiful life and all it's possibilities, needed the nearness of the one he gave it up for, his baby girl. Together, for seven years, they formed a connection that would ultimately end by the ultimate separation.
I highly recommend this book. It is a must-keep for my bookshelf.
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