Monday, November 5, 2012

book review: Baby Brother's Blues by Pearl Cleage

The backstory: Baby Brother's Blues is the third title in Pearl Cleage's West End series (my reviews of Some Things I Never Thought I'd Do and Babylon Sisters.) The series takes place in the West End neighborhood in Atlanta and features recurring characters, but it isn't a series you necessarily need to read in order.

The basics: Blue and Regina Hamilton shift to main characters again in Baby Brother's Blues. Regina is pregnant and growing concerned with the number of women seeking haven in West End. Regina's friend Aretha is considering her husband Kwame's pleas to leave West End for Midtown to strengthen their marriage. Meanwhile, Baby Brother, a U.S. soldier serving in Iraq who has a brief bereavement leave, arrives in Atlanta angry at the world and with no intentions of going back to Iraq.

My thoughts: While Regina and Blue return to the spotlight in Baby Brother's Blues, Cleage works wonders with a large number of narrators. These seemingly unconnected characters move closer together as the novel progresses. There are elements of romance, politics, crime, and social justice, but ultimately this novel is both character-based and plot-driven. This combination makes it both a page turner and a novel to savor.

As in all of her novels, Pearl Cleage takes on big contemporary themes. Her scope is both global (the Iraq War most notably) and local (African-American trends in Atlanta). As much as I love these elements, I was most moved by the characters in Baby Brother's Blues. Cleage never takes the easy way out. The multiple points of view presented in this novel let the reader see the situation more clearly than the characters themselves. This clarity, however, only reinforces the difficulty of dealing with the larger issues. This duality of theme makes both the individual stories and the global stories stronger.

A personal highlight while reading this novel was having one scene set at Murphy's, the restaurant in Virginia Highlands. It's the restaurant Mr. Nomadreader and I met while working at. Pearl came into the restaurant a few times while we worked there too. I know some of my love of Pearl Cleage's work is how well she captures Atlanta, and the larger cast of main characters in this novel allowed her to present a larger slice of Atlanta than the West End.

Favorite passage:  "She knew she was earning her membership in a long line of outspoken women and passionately committed men who understood that loving your country meant speaking up as loudly when it was wrong as you cheered when it was right. She was grateful for the chance to be in their number."

The verdict: Cleage once again creates beautifully flawed characters with whom you want to celebrate and mourn. She infuses themes of social justice beautifully. The end of this novel is truly stunning as Cleage weaves all of the storylines into a surprisingly cohesive conclusion.

In a conversation after the conclusion of this novel, Pearl Cleage shares this beautiful sentiment on storytelling: "I think storytelling is an ancient art that has survived because it’s through our stories that we reveal who we truly are as a community of people. I want my stories to be able to stimulate a vision in people of a different way for us to live together."

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 370 pages
Publication date: February 28, 2006
Source: purchased for my Kindle

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Baby Brother's Blues from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

 As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!


  1. Again, you've got me scrambling to get Cleage onto my reading list -- I think I'm going to try her in 2013!

  2. I love how you love Cleage, it gives me a lot of pleasure to read these reviews and see that I've got such great things to look forward to. I also love that you have a personal story about her too. I am itching to get one of her books now, but I think I will start with her first.

  3. WoW, you've been busy - I've tried Playaways as well and think they are great. Defending Jacob was a favorite audio of mine (and that ending) wow. I need to try 1,000 Saints as well.


Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!