cover image God Don't Like Ugly

God Don't Like Ugly

Mary Monroe, Monroe. Dafina Books, $15 (352pp) ISBN 978-1-57566-607-5

Annette Goode, born in the racist South of the 1950s, is the heroine of Monroe's strong second novel (after The Upper Room), a coming-of-age journey depicted with wit, poignancy and bite. Up until 1963, when 13-year-old, overweight Annette Goode meets beautiful Rhoda Nelson, only daughter of the Richland, Ohio, town undertaker, Annette's life has been a nightmare. After Annette's father left her mother (Muh'Dear) for a white woman, Muh'Dear has scraped by as a domestic, stealing leftover food from her employers' kitchens; Annette overeats to compensate for her father's abandonment. Annette is only seven when she asks their boarder, Mr. Boatwright, to be her daddy. Soon after, he begins raping her. Annette, who considers herself fat and ugly, endures silently, thinking no one will believe her. She suffers the attacks for years until Rhoda befriends her and decides the man must be stopped. Monroe's characters are well drawn, full-bodied and not all bad. Monroe paints sympathetic portraits of Judge Lawson, the honorable white man Muh'Dear works for; Mr. Nelson, the undertaker; Scary Mary, who runs a brothel but has a good heart; and Pee Wee, Annette's young gay friend. However, it is the convincingly depicted friendship between Annette and Rhoda that drives the narrative and gives Annette the courage to end her abuse. In using a young girl's innocent voice to narrate, Monroe recounts a tale of extreme hardship with a hopeful, uplifting tone. Some readers will find the characters more enjoyable than the plot, which occasionally lapses into predictable melodrama, but readers of contemporary African-American literature will discover a highly satisfying page turnerDand one that will stand out on bookstore shelves with its bold, purple-hued cover. (Oct.)