Friday, December 14, 2012

book review: Til You Hear From Me by Pearl Cleage

The backstory: Til You Hear From Me is the fifth novel in Pearl Cleage's West End series (my reviews of Some Things I Never Thought I'd DoBabylon SistersBaby Brother's Blues, and Seen It All and Done the Rest.)

The basics: Fresh off working on Obama's 2008 campaign, Ida B. Wells Dunbar is losing hope she'll be offered a job in the administration. Meanwhile, her father, Rev. Dunbar, a famous African-American preacher and civil rights icon is still irked with Obama about the Rev. Wright fallout, is making headlines with his some unfortunate statements. At the pleading of familiar West End face Miss Iona, Ida B. comes to Atlanta to check on her father.

My thoughts: I adore Pearl Cleage and her work, but I'll be honest: Til You Hear From Me started a little rough. The story felt rushed, the writing felt either too flat or too flowery, and one character, Wes, felt flat:
"Wes liked women. He didn’t consider them his equals, although like most of the middle-class men of his generation, he was fluent in the feminist rhetoric required of men who had worked with and for women most of their professional lives. When Wes thought about women, it was as sexual partners or employees. Necessary, certainly, but highly interchangeable. The large pool of smart, attractive, ambitious black women without romantic partners gave Wes an endless supply of lovers and entry-level associates who expected nothing more than whatever he was prepared to give."
I wondered if Pearl was up against a deadline and rushing to write this novel. Soon, thankfully, it returned to her usual style and became a deeply moving tale. At the heart of this novel is the impact of Obama on race relations in the U.S. Characters ponder if Black History Month is still necessary or if now every month is essentially Black History Month. Cleage combines the deep roots of the civil right movement with contemporary issues beautifully. There's both hope and fear with the Rev.:
“The thing he’s got to understand,” the Rev was saying, “is that this can’t be about a cult of personality. It has to be bigger than loving Obama. We can’t keep building our movements around one man.”
I most appreciated how Cleage inserted familiar West End faces and those new to readers into real-life moments and alongside real people. It was fascinating to watch West End, an African-American neighborhood in Atlanta, react to the president's election.

Favorite passage:  "But maybe it was just that as much as we want to make the Rev and Martin and Malcolm and Mandela all perfect, godlike creatures, deigning to walk the earth in human form in order to lead us mere mortals to the mountaintop, they are only men, fully and completely as human and as flawed as any of the rest of us. The quality that makes them different is that they can look at us and where other folks only see a bunch of wild, scary, defeated, disheartened, disorganized people, they see what we might look like if we would stand up once and for all and take responsibility for being the free men and women all people are born to be. They see the best of us even when we can’t and their words paint such vivid picture that for just a moment, we get it, we feel it, we see it, and somewhere deep, deep down, we know that we can be it."

The verdict: Although Til You Hear From Me gets off to a rocky start, Cleage soon returns to form, however, and delivers a funny, hopeful, moving tale of social justice, family and community. Admittedly, my fascination with the 2008 election heightened my enjoyment of this novel, but the tears I sobbed as I read the last 10% were tears of joy, hope, forgiveness and a shared humanity with Ida B. Wells Dunbar.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 289 pages
Publication date: April 20, 2010
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Til You Hear From Me from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

Also by Pearl Cleage: What Looks Like Crazy On an Ordinary Day and I Wish I Had a Red Dress

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. I read an earlier book by Pearl Cleage, Some Things I Never Thought I'd Do. This sounds worth reading.

    1. Suko--you should also check out the sequel to Some Things, I Wish I Had a Red Dress.


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