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Child Bride
In the segregated South of the mid-1900s, fourteen-year-old Nell bears witness to a world that embraces the oppression of women. She is fascinated with the prospect of being an independent person—but when she turns sixteen, she is married off and brought to the city of Boston as a bride. \tNell is a shy girl who must quickly learn how to be a wife and mother. She soon discovers that she must acquire new skills to navigate the unknown territory of the North, as well as her relationship with her husband, Henry, who is controlling and emotionally abusive. After giving birth to three children, her body begins to fail her and Henry, concerned for her health, pulls away from her physically. But this void of intimacy drives Nell into the arms of another man, Charles—an encounter that leads to another pregnancy, and a new unanticipated adventure for Nell. \t
This enticing debut novel from poet Turner (Lost and Found: Rhyming Verse Honoring African-American Heroes) chronicles a young black woman’s coming of age amid the turbulent racism of Louisiana and Boston just prior to the civil rights era. Nell Jones, born in 1941, grew up on a farm in Louisiana, basking in the support of her family and enjoying the comfort of books. At 16, she agrees to marry Henry Bight, a man 10 years her senior, and they move to Boston after being wed. Nell’s attraction to Henry wanes as he exerts total control over her life, barely letting her leave their apartment. After giving birth to two children, Nell demands that Henry allow her to attend church. There she meets Charles Johnson, a college-educated man who shares her love of books and learning. When their brief affair results in a child, Nell faces Henry’s wrath. But Turner eschews the traditional “fallen woman” plot, and Nell finds she has more resources and support than she expects.

The parts of the novel set in segregated Louisiana illuminate the socioeconomic and educational discrimination experienced by African-Americans. Turner alludes to the omnipresent undercurrent of fear, referencing the brutal hanging of Emmett Till and Nell’s startled awareness of overt discrimination when she visits her family after living in Boston.

Turner’s character work is excellent, establishing Nell, Henry, and Charles as real people, complete with imperfections. Nell in particular is a complex young woman, whose desire for love, family, and learning make her easy to connect with. Turner’s secondary characters are equally fleshed out and complex: Phyllis Leonard, a minister’s wife, is generous and but strict in her morals, accepting Nell into the church fold but masterminding Henry’s plan to evict Nell from their home after her infidelity. Turner has crafted an accessible and absorbing historical drama about one woman’s path to creating the life and home she wants.

Takeaway: This historical drama about surviving racism and abuse will move any reader interested in African-American lives in the early 20th century.

Great for fans of Jacqueline Woodson’s Red at the Bone, Toni Morrison’s Sula.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: -
Editing: A
Marketing copy: B-