THE JUSTUS GIRLS

Slim Lambright, Author, Evelyn Lambright, Author
Slim Lambright, Author, Evelyn Lambright, Author . HarperCollins $24 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-018476-6
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Charming and down-to-earth, Lambright's first novel tells the story of four black women—Jan, Peaches, Roach and Sally—whose spunk and individuality is exemplified by the drill team they formed as adolescents in 1950s Philadelphia: with neither training nor money, they excelled through sheer moxie. Four decades later, Peaches is brutally killed and the remaining three band together, renewing old ties, revealing long-held secrets and furnishing much needed support for each other. The unpolished prose, liberally sprinkled with slang, nicknames and cultural referents, is powerful mainly because of its autobiographical flavor. The protagonists live through the civil rights and women's rights movements, changes in religious and cultural ideals, pregnancy, abortion and various forms of abuse. Through it all, they struggle to maintain the teen spunk and confidence reflected in the name of their drill team, the Justus Girls. Lambright does nothing particularly groundbreaking—her sense of American history and culture is slight and derivative, her characters are rife with cliché—but she spins a good yarn and the novel's multiple-flashback structure effectively maintains narrative tension, letting out each woman's story bit by bit. It's difficult not to be touched by Lambright's conviction "that the will to rise [is] the strongest force on earth" and by her belief in the role of female friendship in maintaining that will. Ad/promo. (July 16)

Forecast: Lambright's own story is as appealing as those she tells—on the verge of bankruptcy, she signed up for a writing class and within a year had a contract with HarperCollins. Audiences at readings in major Northeast cities will be treated to a glass of champagne with peaches, the Girls' signature drink. Such a combination of good luck and gimmicks augurs well.

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