Disgruntled, Asali Solomon (2015)
Kenya Curtis is growing up in 1970’s Philadelphia with a dad who wants to seed a revolution and a mom who’s working to pay the rent. Her living room is the gathering place for the Seven Days, a collection of tired but dedicated survivors of the Civil Rights movement, fending of complacence and creeping towards middle age. Because she is the kid that celebrates Kwanzaa and can’t eat pepperoni pizza because of the pork, school is a place of derision that borders on shunning.
Solomon’s coming-of-age story line delineates a different edge of the American experience. An affair at home and an act of violence with uncertain origins shatter Kenya’s family shatters. When it pieces itself back together, it’s almost unrecognizable. Kenya finds herself one of the handful of Blacks students at a private all-girl’s school while her mother starts dating a man who might be at best a amateur con artist and at at worst, a child molester. Somewhere in the vague, big world, her father finishes up a jail sentence then begins living his dream of writing The Key, his philosophical magnum opus, while cobbling together a unconventional utopian parallel family.
With deft dialogue and an economy of description, Solomon crafts characters of stunning richness and personality: the distractable son of a neighbor thrust on Kenya while their parents debate the politics of volunteerism, the estranged suburban grandmother whose compliance with racial hierarchy coexists with her determination to have her granddaughter subvert that hierarchy, the seemingly dim and saccharine gal oozing southern hospitality who absconding with the affections of Kenya’s father. And of course, Kenya herself, sometimes cruising and most often stumbling through this obstacle course as she tries to chart her own path.