cover image Moonrise over New Jessup

Moonrise over New Jessup

Jamila Minnicks. Algonquin, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-1-64375-246-4

Pen/Bellwether Prize winner Minnicks debuts with the uneven story of a young woman’s relationship with her all-Black Alabama community. It’s 1957 when Alice Young leaves an abusive landlord for a new start in New Jessup, a unique settlement founded by a coalition of Black families who believed in the ideas of separation espoused by Booker T. Washington. Alice quickly finds a room with a pastor and his wife, and a job sewing at the local dress shop. Soon, she falls in love with the charming Raymond Campbell, who is secretly involved with the National Negro Advancement Society. The community forbids such “agitating,” believing it will draw unwanted and dangerous attention from the white side of town and the law, and Alice agrees, not wanting her idyllic new home disturbed. She is soon torn between her love for Raymond and her love for New Jessup. Minnicks brings nuance to Alice’s dilemma, but the florid prose tends toward the overwrought: “The moon was generous with its light on our skin, streaming through the window as a creamy night sun.” There is much to love in these characters and their resilience, but Minnicks frequently gets in the way. Agent: Michelle Brower, Trellis Literary. (Jan.)