This book has been on my shelf forever. I don’t remember when I bought it or why. The pages of the paperback are yellowed with age. I’m so glad I finally picked it up and decided to read it.
The book is a series of interrelated stories set in the 1950’s. The stories take place in an African-American neighborhood called Rattlebone in Kansas City, Kansas. The stories are tied together by Irene, “Reenie,” Wilson who comes of age during the course of the book. The first of the eleven stories begins as Reenie meets her glamorous new teacher at the beginning of the school year and moves through all of the myriads of events that provide the context for her young life. All the characters that surround Reenie draw you in as they face the rhythms of daily life in a very particular historical time and place. The only white people that ever come to Rattlebone on a regular basis are the milkman, the Insurance Man, Doll at Doll’s Market and the music teacher, Mr. Heltzberg. There is the time Sister Joan makes several trips to the neighborhood to save the souls of the children. That is a story in and of itself.
I grew up in the 50’s in San Diego. The only person of color in my neighborhood that I can remember is the young Mexican woman who worked and lived at my best friend’s house. My friend and I answered the door the day men in suits wearing guns unexpectedly came and took her away. Comparing and contrasting my own childhood experiences enriched my appreciation for this award-winning collection of stories.