Mattie Banks is travelling by bus to an abortionist when Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat. This simple act inspires Mattie to keep her baby and hope for a better future. In the present day, Mattie’s granddaughter Ashlee loses a prestigious promotion and discovers that her grandmother’s cancer is back…
Wow. Just wow.
The Girl at the Back of the Bus is quite extraordinary in its careful balance of tragedy and hope. The power of the opening chapter where we are introduced to the racism and segregation of 1950s America is shocking and revolting. Yet the Black characters act with courage and dignity throughout the book, aspiring for a life of equality and acceptance.
Author Suzette D. Harrison includes the casual and normalised use of terms of racial abuse: this is terrible and inspires a revulsion in modern readers. I cannot believe that such inequality and despicable attitudes were permitted and enshrined in law in my parents’ lifetime. I felt ashamed of the overt White acts and insidious institutional racism that continue to perpetuate the discrimination even in modern times.
Ashlee and her white boyfriend Brad negotiate personal as well as racial politics. The shadow of their different histories of their ethnic backgrounds impacts on their interracial relationship. Ashlee appears to have more opportunities than Mattie yet she is still held back by her sex and race, doubly discriminated against compared to her colleagues.
Despite the intensity of the historical content, The Girl at the Back of the Bus is a love story and a story of love between the generations. The love of Ashlee for her grandmother and her other family is beautiful and compellingly written. It brought a tear to my eye, especially due to the lockdown and our current enforced separation from loved ones, as well as the grief that I have now lost all of my own grandparents. The enduring love between Mattie and her husband was also charming and I hope that my husband and I keep the romance alive in our 80s!
The Girl at the Back of the Bus was thought provoking and brilliant. My heart hurts with the love and pain contained within its pages.
The Girl at the Back of the Bus book description:
“I watched in awe as Miz Rosa stopped those men on the bus with her clear, calm “no” and I thought about that word. What if I said no? What if I refused to follow the path these White folks wanted for us? What if I kept this precious baby?
Montgomery, Alabama, 1955
On a cold December evening, Mattie Banks packs a suitcase and leaves her family home. Sixteen years old and pregnant, she has already made the mistake that will ruin her life and disgrace her widowed mother. Boarding the 2857 bus, she sits with her case on her lap, hoping that the driver will take her away from disaster. Instead, Mattie witnesses an act of bravery by a woman named Rosa Parks that changes everything. But as Mattie strives to turn her life around, the dangers that first led her to run are never far away. Forging a new life in a harsh world at constant risk of exposure, Mattie will need to fight to keep her baby safe.
Atlanta, Georgia, present day
Ashlee Turner is going home. Her relationship in ruins, her career held back by prejudice, she is returning to the family who have always been her rock. But Ashlee’s home is not the safe haven she remembers. Her beloved grandmother is dying and is determined to share her story before she leaves…
When Ashlee finds a stack of yellowing letters hidden in her nana’s closet, she can’t help the curiosity that compels her to read, and she uncovers an old secret that could wreak havoc on her already grieving family. As she tries to make sense of what she has learned, Ashlee faces a devastating choice: to protect her loved ones from the revelations, or honor her grandmother’s wishes and follow the path to the truth, no matter where it may lead.
For readers of The Help, Orphan Train and Before We Were Yours comes a beautiful and heartbreaking novel about redemption, family secrets and the spirit of survival found at the hardest time.
Suzette D. Harrison, a native Californian and the middle of three daughters, grew up in a home where reading was required, not requested. Her literary “career” began in junior high school with the publishing of her poetry. While Suzette pays homage to Alex Haley, Gloria Naylor, Alice Walker, Langston Hughes, and Toni Morrison as legends who inspired her creativity, it was Dr. Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings that unleashed her writing. The award-winning author of Taffy is a wife and mother of two teens, and she holds a culinary degree in pastry and baking. Mrs. Harrison is currently cooking up her next novel…in between batches of cupcakes.