Hallway Diaries by Felicia Pride, Debbie Rigaud & Karen Valentin 2007
Kimani Tru/Harlequin Press
IQ "In the short distance to the bus, I realized that Baltimore was trying to prove its worth. It was like a beautiful woman with a black eye. It was trying to prove that it was the little big city that could. It was more dangerous than it should be. It was trying to prove that it deserved attention. It was loud for no reason. It was trying to prove that it had something to say. So I listened." Nina pg. 76
The first story is "How to Be Down" by Felicia Pride, the second story is "Double Act" by Debbie Rigaud and the final story is "The Summer She Learned To Dance" by Karen Valentin. What all these stories have in common is that they are about girls who are considered Black in mostly white communities and 'white' in mostly Black communities. They would be called 'oreos' in the Black community.
The problem with all three of these stories is how they develop the backstory. In "Double Act" we learn the main character's name and that she's a straight-A student through her thoughts "Come on Mia Chambers, I scolded myself. You just found out that you aced all your classes with straight As" (pg. 165). That statement is redundant (acing classes and getting straight As is the same thing) and is an easy way of explaining some facts about the main character. Easy but not very interesting. All the stories read like this. A small thing that bothered me was when in "How To Be Down", the author felt the need to 'translate' what some of the characters were saying. "While we walked to the lunch line, Sheena asked why my hair was bushier than this morning. 'Why you look so crazy?' (pg. 62). Based on that phrase alone, the reader could have figured out what was going on. In "The Summer She Learned To Dance" the story contains excerpts from the thoughts of each of the characters which reads oddly in such a small space. I think the story should have just been told from Giselle's perspective or Giselle's and Jacinta 's(her cousin from the Dominican Republic), instead of also including thoughts from her father and Katie. These are little things but they ended up becoming quite annoying. All the stories will be dated rather quickly (in fact they're dated now) because of their celebrity references. Also time flew by very quickly and that made things very confusing because it wasn't described well.
I really liked "How to be Down" and "Double Act." They had a lot in common with the whole 'oreo' thing, parents who are upper middle class and make sure they are exposed to all the aspects of Black culture. What makes "How to be Down" stand out is the 'villaness'. I want name names but she's so insecure because she's biracial and feels that if she keeps questioning other people's Blackness, they won't have time to question hers. A rare story and one that is pulled off fairly well for a short story collection. Nina (main character of "How to be Down") moves from her suburban neighborhood to the city of Baltimore and it's a jarring change for her, one that the author successfully outlines in a oftentimes humorous manner. In "Double Act", Mia has to switch from her predominately Black school to the more challenging all girls, almost all white, suburban school. The author shows that not only is the curriculum more challenging, but so are the social challenges. How do you handle being at a school that ignores the contributions of anyone who is not white? Mia was an unusual character because she "used sound as my own road map. The tap-tap sounds of the double-Dutch ropes helped me decide when to jump. I could identify a song after hearing no more than three or four notes. And people's voices sounded like notes on my keyboard." (pg. 209). Not sure how that works but it's a different way of being able to remember people :) "The Summer She Learned to Dance" has Giselle in the timeless struggle of learning more about her Dominican culture (her mother is dead and she's been raised by her all father's white family) and balancing her Dominican culture with her white culture.
Hallway Diaries is an early book that talks about 'sellouts' in a sometimes funny and meaningful way. Nina, Mia and Giselle are all trying to figure out who they are in and how to survive the trials of high school. High school is always tough, and this collection shows how hard it can be for middle/upper class Black (and one half Latina) teens. The challenges are nothing new, but still there and ones that many white teens may not be aware of. The writing isn't anything special nor are the characters ones who will stick with you. But in the short time it took to read this book, I found myself relating to all three of the main characters and having a nice time while I read.
*I don't rate anthologies by different authors, only anthologies by the same author. Also Throwback Thursday is hosted by Take Me Away. In this meme I review books published before 2007.
Disclosure: Bought years and years ago. Ok not that long ago