Friday, June 4, 2010

Good Fortune

Good Fortune by Noni Carter 2010
Simon & Schuster

Rating: 4/5

IQ "Anna, they are seasons, that's all, 'she said.' Life is littered with them. The springs and summers-they're so hot, so safe, so beautiful. [.....] But then the falls with their chills, and the winters with their bareness and freezing condemnations must come and go as well. But it's all meant to cycle onward." Mrs. Rosa pg. 433

Good Fortune traces the journey of Ayanna Bahati, who is captured and taken from her African village and sold into slavery in America. She is renamed Sarah but she still has flashbacks of her life in Africa and the traumatic events of coming to America (she was seven at the time). Sarah is determined to escape to freedom especially when her "master's" son (Jeffrey) begins to pressure her and he looks like he will make her his mistress. Sarah would rather die than suffer that fate so she begins to plan on running away.

This is a stunning debut from a very talented young author (she's 18 and attends Harvard University). I was more than a little apprehensive about picking up this book because I haven't been in the mood to read yet another slave narrative. They are depressing and speak to a history that is incredibly hard to be proud of. While this novel is somewhat predictable and redundant in its facts about the horror of slavery, it has a very strong message to it concerning education. I think that in the author's goal to have the book be used as a teaching tool for children, her message overpowers the book in some parts. It puts a human face on the struggles of slaves; Sarah goes through so much and she is so determined to get an education. It made me think long and hard about how many of my fellow African American students (and it's not just us, but I'm focusing on us today) dismiss the educational opportunities they have, we waste them by not reaching to our full potential, we mess around in school (I'm guilty of doing that sometimes too!). I can honestly say this novel made me feel bad for complaining all the time about having to go to school, while I didn't stop completely I do try to complain less.

Something that really bothered me about this novel was that the language seemed to be too-flowery (does that make sense?) It was very formal and it was hard to believe that an uneducated slave would speak in such precise words. However, the author does have a great way with words, she describes scenes that leap off the pages. "Then, one night, as snow fell steadily, heaven must have decided to turn all the elements of nature against me. Down came icy rocks, hurled my way as if the skies were taunting me for the slowness of my pace. I dropped down and tried to shield myself, but they came crashing upon my back and shoulders. I fought to get up again, to seek shelter. My throat burned while the rest of me shook with cold. With the surrounding land mocking me as I stumbled over its bumpy surfaces and my own feet, I searched for refuge from heaven's assault." (pg. 186-187) At times Good Fortune seemed tedious, I think that some pages could have been cut out (it's 470 pages!) because many pages simply have to do with planning and waiting, planning escapes, waiting for the right time. I'm not going to go into much detail about what this novel covers about slavery because it covers much of the hardships; the beatings, the rape (it's not at all graphic though, merely hinted at), the death, the danger of escape, etc. However, this novel is unique because it has a love story. The love story between Sarah and John helps lighten the horrific situation of slavery, they are young and in love and it's adorable. They face hardship, in large part because Jeffrey (the slave owner's son) wants to keep them apart and he holds the power. Their love is based on hope and trust and they wait. And wait. It's a bittersweet ending. Sarah herself carries the novel. She is incredibly naive, but she has a strong and persistent voice, she will become educated and she will one day marry John.

Good Fortune avoids the trap of being yet another depressing slave story due to the author's magical way with words, the determined main character and surrounding characters (her adopted brother, Daniel, her Aunt Mary, her friend Florence) and the tender love story. I think that at times the author tries too hard to get her message about the importance of education into the reader's head, but it's an important message that needs to be reiterated. I wish that the author had either eliminated Sarah's memories of Africa or more fully explained them because seeing them only though Sarah's hazy flashbacks and nightmares provides confusion for the reader. I will definitely be looking for future work by Noni Carter, her debut was incredibly well researched and showcases her talent with words. Do not let your fear of reading about slavery keep you from missing out on this story.

Disclosure: Received from Nathalie to give away as a prize in the POC Reading Challenge. Thank you so much Nathalie!


  1. Wow, this sounds like something I'd like--I'm adding it to my wishlist! Great review!

  2. Nice review! The tiny excerpts alone are enough to make me want to go out and read this. :)

  3. That cover is so striking! It just begs to be picked up.

    Good review. I see you have Copper Sun on your list. I would be interested in reading a comparison of the two.

    I like the lists on the right, they give me ideas...

  4. @Katy-I hope you like it and thank you!

    @Heather H-That's why I like including quotes/excerpts becuasethey can make a book quite appealing :)

    @KB-It's a nice cover, I like the prominent brown face on the cover and behind her face is writing like a letter. I read Copper Sun awhile ago but I need to re-read it so it's on the list. It will be interesting to see their differences. I'm glad you like the lists, I'm trying to clean up my sidebar though so the lists for the challenge are being moved to the Challenge page =)

  5. This one was in my pile for about 2 months until I picked it up. I always have to be prepared to read a book about slavery.

    But I really enjoyed Good Fortune as well.

  6. Thanks for the review. I'm also not always ready to read a slavery book, but this one sounds worth it. I wonder if the main character is supposed to be a little bit similar to Phillis Wheatley? She was captured and brought on a slave ship when she was about 7, and she was big into education, and she certainly spoke (or at least wrote) in a very flowery way.

  7. @Doret-Same here but I'm gald I finally picked it up.

    @ivanova-I'm laughing at how publishers don't seem to realize that people don't like reading multiple books about slavery, it takes a lot of preparation before you start reading one! I never thought of that, but could be since I do remember reading that Phyllis Wheatley used flowery language. The author has note at the end and talks about the facts vs. fiction of the story, but I don't think she mentioned Phlliss Wheatley.

  8. I saw this book at B&N recently. For being eighteen, she has a very mature sense of writing. I'm glad you found it a worthwhile read. :)


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