#CBR7 Review #22: Jam on the Vine by LaShonda K. Barnett

I’m a bit behind in my reviews. Between drama with my car (as in: the engine was shot after a mere four months, and now The Chancellor and I had to scrounge for a new one), and preparation for my dissertation defense in about 2 and a half weeks now, life’s been a little too crazy to blog about books. Thankfully, I’m reading up a storm, regardless. The details may be a little bit fuzzy, but I’m going to try my very best. That’s why we have Goodreads, right?

My local library gets a national library newsletter, which I try to pick up each month. In this month’s “new authors” section, there was an interview with LaShonda K. Barnett, the author of Jam on the Vine. Barnett stated that she wanted to read more uplifting books about African-American women, so she decided to write one herself.

Jam on the Vine is her debut novel, and it follows the life and career of Ivoe Williams, an aspirational journalist who begins her life in Texas and ends up in Kansas City, Kansas. Her mother works for a white employer, and it is there that Ivoe first steals a national newspaper. Devouring the words, she finds as many as she can, until she gets the opportunity to attend an all-girls high school in Austin. There, she meets her first girlfriend and the enduring love print that brings her into contact with journalism teacher Ona Durden, who will one day become her partner (I promise this is not a spoiler: it’s printed very blatantly on the book jacket). She returns home to the Jim Crow South and can only find the most menial of jobs. Finally, her family flees to Kansas City, where she eventually starts a black newspaper, Jam on the Vine, and tries desperately to craft a finely built life amidst the prejudice and racism threatening to choke her.

My reaction to this book is actually kind of ambivalent. Here’s what I *really* liked: the journalism aspect in the face of oppression in the early twentieth century. Ivoe’s relationship with Ona is also uplifting and endearing. What I was not as fond of, however, was the almost 40-year sweep in history and the multiple family perspectives. It jumbled the storyline considerably and made the plot almost too big. I would have liked the novel better if it had had a narrower historical scope and only followed Ivoe’s perspective. It’s a good and important story, but I really wanted it to be a *great* novel. Here’s hoping that Ms. Barnett’s style follows the skill of her historical and contextual awareness.

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