Serendipity in the Stacks #70: Miss Black America
Posted by: Kaite Stover
Odds are very good that most book groups haven’t discovered this little gem from Veronica Chambers. Originally published under the title When Did You Stop Loving Me? in 2004, Chambers’ debut novel was reissued as Miss Black America in 2005.
Set in late ’70s Brooklyn, the young narrator, Angela, is happy growing up with her passionate yet volatile parents. Then one day she comes home from school to discover her mother Melanie is gone and her father, Teddo won’t (or can’t) tell Angela where her mother has gone. Left with her magician father, Angela is raised to be proud of her heritage even while this family of two struggle to keep food on the table. Teddo takes Angela to the hedonistic discos of New York City, it’s an eye-opening experience for the young teen, but Angela manages to keep her innocence. A chance meeting with Muhammad Ali changes Angela and leads her to decisions about her own life path and the one that will lead to her missing mother.
The voice of Angela will be the immediate pull for readers. Each chapter is a vignette in Angela’s life with her parents. The story’s pace is brisk as the chapters move quickly through lots of dialogue and brief descriptions. The tone is fraught with the panic of a young child and her desire for warmth and security. Angela breaks up the seriousness of the story with the witty observations of childhood and her own cartoon depictions of events in her life.
This is a short novel and groups who like coming of age novels with a strong sense of time and place will enjoy discussing Angela’s unusual childhood and her unique way of looking at it.