Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genesis, thirteen, seems to always be beginning again. Beginning again after her family has been evicted. And it's tough, making new friends, never knowing when they may be out on the street, staying in a friend's basement, moving into her grandmother's for a night or two.
The book starts with the most traumatic eviction yet. Genesis has finally, finally, made friends, and they are coming over to her house after school. They may not always be the nicest. And when they get to her house, that not nicest comes out in full -- because all of their belongings are on the yard, with the doors locked against them. To make it worse, the furniture was set up as it was in their rooms.
So, yeah, that is pretty terrible.
But then the next house her father rents is wonderful: a great neighborhood, a great school, and Genesis begins to make friends and to find her voice. I mean that literally, as she starts singing in the chorus at school.
All this, while Genesis is full of dislike for herself. In particular, her dark skin. She yearns to be lighter, like her mother, like her grandmother. She wishes she was not as dark as her father. Part of this is society, part is her family, part is her friends, and all have been internalized. She goes to extremes to try to lighten her skin. This is a nuanced, heartbreaking look at colorism.
This also has one of the best portraits of an alcoholic parent I've seen in a while. All too often, an abusive parent in a book is so full on awful that you spend half the book frustrated at the other parent, for staying with them, and at the child, for loving the abuser.
Here, the father is an alcoholic and a gambler. The reason for the evictions is he keeps gambling or spending the money away. And when he drinks he can be a mean drink: it's things he said, while drunk, that is part of the reason Genesis wishes she were lighter, like her mother, even half-thinking that if she were lighter, her father wouldn't drink and wouldn't be a mean drunk.
Her father can be mean. But he's not physically abusive. And what I like about this book is that her father is portrayed as a whole person. When sober, he's loving and does things like cook Genesis's favorite foods. He's charming enough that even with their history of evictions, he sweet talks a landlord into renting to them. And we also learn his own background, and that in many ways he's just doing what was done to him.
Let me be clear: this is not an excuse, it's not saying it's OK. But in making the father whole like this, it's understandable why Genesis's mother fell in love with him. It's understandable why she stays with him. It's understandable why Genesis loves him. The reader wishes, like they do, that he will stop drinking.
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