cover image Grown Women

Grown Women

Sarai Johnson. Harper, $30 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-329443-1

Johnson debuts with a deeply satisfying multigenerational saga of a Black family. Evelyn was brought up in 1940s Atlanta with the expecation that she succeed. As a young mother and widow in the 1970s, her success in academia comes at the expense of her daughter, Charlotte, who only feels her mother’s coldness and resentment. When Evelyn erupts at the news of 18-year-old Charlotte’s unexpected pregnancy in 1974, she flees home and builds a new life in rural Tennessee. Charlotte struggles with alcoholism and the effects of assorted bad decisions, which have an acidic effect on her daughter, Corinna, who doesn’t feel accepted by her mother. Searching for love, Corinna has a brief relationship with a high school football star and becomes pregnant at 17. She vows to provide her daughter, Camille, with the love she yearned for as a girl, but soon becomes overwhelmed and makes the difficult decision to send Camille to Evelyn, who is now a professor at Howard University. Johnson brings new life to the age-old theme of a family’s cyclical dysfunction, and the narrative is packed with stunning self-reflections, such as Charlotte’s reason for naming her daughter after the song “Corrina, Corrina” (“It had always made her sad, like looking at this baby”). This is a revelation. Agents: Catherine Bradshaw and Susan Ginsburg, Writers House. (May)