The Darkest Child was a disturbing book. It made me feel a sense of rage and disgust as well as helplessness. It also made me feel hopeful for the protagonist and triumphant in the end that she would have the fullness of life she deserved.
Tangy Mae is resilient and determined to achieve something so few black people ad achieved in Jim Crow America - an education, specifically, her high school diploma. Somehow, she knew books and writing would be her escape from the unspeakable horror that was her mother.
Tangy was determined to hold onto a sense of possibility despite her innocence sold to the highest bidder of lowest character. Despite her mother being the catalyst for the evil bigot being the one to shred Tangy Mae's innocence and body, her body becoming a tool for another dress to feed her mother's depraved beauty. There was a strength of character and hope that Tangy sought to hold onto and fulfill a dream, even as she couldn't completely understand all that was happening around her.
The evil that surrounded small town Jim Crow couldn't strike a candle to the demons raging in her mother's mind, not enough cleaning could pull the bugs from her body. Tangy Mae tried desperately, through the eyes of a daughter for a mother, to see something lovable, something redeemable in a woman who was beyond decency.
Her mother's outer beauty betrayed the hideous ugliness inside her soul that made her do so many horrendous things to each of her ten children. Even the one she ranked to be most like her in outer beauty couldn't escape the tentacles of her mother's unmentionable actions.
This book disturbed me and at times made me want to throw up. I would sit in my bed or in the passenger seat of the car, enraptured in this story, unable to pull away, and unable to imagine anyone this evil. All the while I was reading it, I kept thinking, as bad as my step-mother was, this mother in this book was beyond the worse that ever happened to me. Was the mother's actions a direct result of the inhumane treatment of Jim Crow in the 30s, 40s that by the time Tangy Mae was coming of age in the 50s, there was nothing in her but to reenact the owner-slave treatment to her own children? Or was there something deeply wanting in the mother to love her children but unable to move past even the violence of her own conception?
Delores Phillips covered some deep, dark topics from Jim Crow and the debilitating events in rural Georgia at the very beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement and Brown vs. Board Education to the sadness of a mind lost to the longing of a child for a hopeful future. She covered the dark side of what happened in the rural areas that were stuck in a time warp and black people scared to speak for themselves, of how the continued use of a woman's body for personal gratification allowed even pedophiles to roam free.
This first novel has earned a permanent place on my bookshelf. It spoke of a rage threatening to engulf a young girl's will to live. Yet even in the midst of this inferno, there was a glimmer of hope, of the redeeming power of a father's love, and of the resilience of a young girl. Perhaps the Georgia-native nurse was able to pull something from all of us, a rural version of Precious, perhaps, a rendering of the still-unwon-battle of women's rights and help for child abuse victims. Just as Precious found a road to redemption, so too, does Tangy, on a bus from Georgia to where? We hope to a brighter future.
I highly recommend this book!
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