cover image Soul Kiss

Soul Kiss

Shay Youngblood. Riverhead Hardcover, $21 (210pp) ISBN 978-1-57322-063-7

Youngblood (The Big Mama Stories) brings an intense sense of hermetic emotion to a powerfully subjective tale of one African American girl's coming-of-age. At seven, Mariah Santos is uprooted from Manhattan, Kans., and deposited with her strange and unearthly mother's two maiden aunts in Georgia. Although the quiet and respectable Aunt Merleen and Aunt Faith earnestly try to provide Mariah the structure and advantages that her mother, Coral, could not, Mariah's ability to love and connect with others is stunted. In her heart, she is an abandoned child. Like an animal orphaned before weaning, Mariah hungers for the intensely physical, symbiotic relationship she had with Coral and is drawn to women, on whom she gets crushes and with whom she feels complete. Over the years, her aunts occasionally reveal news of Coral, who travels from one city to another, in and out of drug rehab. At 15, when her frustration with the mysteries of sexual and familial belonging becomes intolerable, Mariah seeks her father, an artist named Matisse, whom she knows only from Coral's embroidered and inconstant memories, a worn photograph and some brief letters. Arriving in L.A. to live with Matisse, Mariah discovers her father knows nothing about being a parent, much less the progenitor of an almost-grown woman who bears a startling resemblance to the woman whose naked image he has obsessively explored on canvas. Mariah, unaccustomed to the company of a man, has no notion of the appropriate boundaries of familial love. Saturating her writing with haunting eroticism, lyrical description and complex characterization, Youngblood gets inside the soul of an acutely isolated girl and takes the pulse of her desire to break out of that solitude. BOMC alternate selection; QPB New Voices nominee; author tour. (May)