In Harriet’s Daughter, young protagonist Margaret developed such an obsession with the leader of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, she insisted those close to her call her Harriet (of course, that wasn’t the only reason) and started an ill-advised Underground Railroad game with her schoolmates. With Margaret, penned by Tobago-born Canadian writer Marlene Nourbese Philip, there is never a dull moment. She is independent-minded and rarely holds her tongue – it leads to messy situations at home and in her friendship circle. I liked that the author leaned in to Margaret’s imperfections (she can be mean but is not necessarily malicious, and as an adult I can see the flaws in some of her thinking while at the same time understand why her thinking makes perfect sense to her). I can even root for her – the world we live in could always use more independent-minded women (which she almost certainly will be). Margaret is also big-hearted and empathic. Sometimes she’s a bit too young acting, sometimes too wise for her years but Margaret is never uninteresting and there are times when you just want to wrap her in your arms and protect her or better yet see and validate her. She is determined, she is creative and imaginative, she is intelligent, and to old school parents, this can read as stubborn, own way, and too smart for her own good – all of which her father, a Barbadian immigrant to Canada, fears she is becoming. He threatens to send her home to his mother to make her more disciplined, and her mother, who is from Jamaica, and has her own heartbreaking backstory, doesn’t put up much of a fight – many of the women in this book don’t, not at first. And the arc to freedom for both girls and women is a key plot point. I do think there is more monologuing than might happen in real life (Mrs. B’s last conversation with the girls – Margaret and her best friend who becomes the mission driving many of her actions in the book – comes to mind) but all in all it’s a quick and complex and entertainng and feeling read. Harriet’s Daughter with its assured and immersive use of voice, is marked by inspired use of dreams and solid characterization, nuanced handling of family dynamics and friendships, deft contrasting of how we perceive things versus how they truly are, use of expectation and the possibility of thrashed hopes in building tension, interesting presentation of the Caribbean as a place one girl yearns for and another girl dreads and by doing so reinforcing that home is where you feel wanted and loved not where you are. There’s also, surprisingly, a fair amount of action. It’s perhaps no surprise that Harriet’s Daughter simultaneously reminds me of Jamaica Kincaid (Annie John) and Judy Blume (Are you there, God? It’s Me Margaret) and so many books and stories (right up to recent animated film Turning Red) in the tradition of female protagonists emerging from girlhood in to confusing and restless adolescent-hoods amidst families that don’t quite get them but, in the best case scenarios, love them just the same. With a lengthy stint on the Caribbean Examinations Council syllabus, in addition to being taught in Canada and Britain, just to name some of this book’s travels, it hardly needs my say-so, but it’s a good read. And as seen since I grabbed it from my shelf on June 17th, I zipped through it. So that it became my first complete read (at this writing 27-06-22, knock on wood, not the last) of my 2022 #readCaribbean #CaribAThon reads for June – #CaribbeanHeritageMonth.
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