The basics: Told in three parts from the perspective of three black middle school students in southwest Atlanta, Leaving Atlanta takes place at the time of the notorious Atlanta Child Murders.
My thoughts: I spent almost half my life in Atlanta (although I'm getting farther away from that every year!) Regardless, I've lived more years in Atlanta than in any other city, and I've been fascinated by the Atlanta Child Murders since I first heard of them. Jones introduces the reader to this time through three different child narrators. Each of the three takes one section, although the sections frequently reference the other narrators. I have mixed reactions to this storytelling approach. Typically, I love different narrators, but these narrators didn't alternate. When narration first switched, it took me a few pages to re-orient myself. The transition to the third narrator was much smoother, and I was excited to see which student was taking over the story. In one sense, I think Jones captured the atmosphere of what it was like to be a child in southwest Atlanta at that time. That one of the classmates, but not one of the three narrators, is named Tayari Jones, certainly gives credance to this theory. Obviously these children are scared, but as is often the case with child narrators, they don't really understand what's going on. (To be fair, I don't think anyone really understood what was happening at this time.)
As I read, and after I finished the novel, I've been wrestling with what pieces didn't quite work for me, and I still struggle to articulate them. In many ways, Jones was incredibly successful, which makes me wonder if my perception of the novel's shortcomings are about my own expectations of this subject rather than her execution. Ultimately, I failed to emotionally connect with any of the three narrators, which left me wanting if not something more, something slightly different. It's a very good novel, but I wanted it to be a great one.
Favorite passage: "How can I say that I can’t stand to talk about it? And how can you say that you can’t stand to hear it when other people are living it?”
The verdict: There is much to ponder, savor, and enjoy in Leaving Atlanta. Emotionally, however, it fell a bit short for me. Yet as I read, I found myself wanting more, whether it was the perspective of more narrators or more terror, as someone who already knew so much about this frightful time, I simply yearned for more.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 272 pages
Publication date: August 21, 2002
Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Leaving Atlanta from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)
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