cover image Bone Black

Bone Black

bell hooks. Henry Holt & Company, $20 (228pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-4145-3

Just as hooks, author of several books on issues of race and sex (Killing Rage, etc.) has idiosyncratically taken a lower-case name, her memoir, written in imagistic three-page segments, takes an unconventional approach. Aiming ""to conjure a rich magical world of southern black culture,"" she avoids conventional signifiers like place names and dates and even shifts between a first-person and a third-person voice, referring to herself as ""she."" Add such techniques to simple, present-tense syntax, and the results can sound precious at times. Still, hooks is right to declare that ""[n]ot enough is known about the experience of black girls in our society,"" so her effort deserves close reading. She struggles with a toy Barbie, preferring a brown doll. She finds sustenance in a rich black community--though one grandmother hates dark skin. She turns to religion and she loves the library. Her mother and older sister treat her menarche with more scorn than sympathy, but she discovers on her own the private pleasure of sexuality. There are scenes of the growing young woman learning about jazz, developing a crush, seeing her parents fight, finding one white teacher who seems unafraid of black kids. In the end, this book leaves us with a familiar but not unsatisfying image, that of a sensitive youth finding in books deliverance from ""the wilderness of spirit I am living in."" (Oct.)