Recently, there has been a plethora of books about some current social issue facing us all. This one is no different, in that regard. Human sexuality, morality and racial issues take the stage at various moments in the narrative. However, the main thrust of the novel seems to be the effects of secrets and betrayal on a mostly young and innocent trio of young people as they mature, grow and learn to accept the responsibility that comes with adulthood.
The novel takes place in Oceanside, California and concerns a tight knit black community that revolves around the church of Pastor Sheppard. The Upper Room Chapel in the church is where the mothers gather, and the volunteers come, in order to help those less fortunate. There, the mothers communed with each other, overseeing the behavior of their neighbors and congregants, gossiping about the news they had overheard, possibly third hand, and then created their own rumors that were often disproved later on, but also often presented dangerous consequences because they led to misconceptions and false judgments about possibly innocent victims. These mothers who did lots of good for their church brethren, remembered being young, and they lamented the changes that had occurred over the years regarding personal, responsible behavior. There were do’s and don’ts that were once followed carefully by all of them, when they were young, but that seemed, to them, to be irrelevant today.
When Nadia Turner’s mother committed suicide, she was left adrift in a void that her father was unable to fill. She looked for comfort from the pastor’s son, Luke Sheppard. When she discovered she was pregnant, she realized she did not want the baby. She had big plans for her future. She had been accepted to the University of Michigan, and she envisioned a different life for herself than that of motherhood at age 17. Luke, although he was older and should have been wiser, went along with her wishes. He had an image to uphold as the pastor’s son. He obtained the money for her to have an abortion, but then he stood her up at the abortion clinic, not picking her up after the procedure. Alone, she faced the trauma and realized how foolish she had been. The secret of that abortion was kept for many years, but both Luke and Nadia carried their heartbreak with them into the future. They were both scarred by the event, and the future held grave consequences for both of them.
When the pastor offered to give Nadia a job so she could have some spending money when she went off to college, her father readily agreed. She began to work for the pastor’s wife, a very self-righteous woman who did not approve of Nadia. At the church, she became friendly with Aubrey, a young quiet, girl who had no friends. Aubrey volunteered in the Upper Room and kept to herself. Both young girls were outcasts in their own way, and they grew close in a friendship that spanned distance and time until the day that many secrets and betrayals came to light causing a rift between them.
Aubrey lived with her sister and her sister’s partner. Both women tried to help and to guide her when she came to live with them. After being raped repeatedly by her mother’s boyfriend, she was skittish around men and avoided social situations. Aubrey was kind and compassionate, however, and rarely resentful. She tended to appreciate what she had and wanted to help others. Nadia was different. She felt that her mother had abandoned her, and so too, had Luke. She often resented her father’s inattention to her, and never appreciated the little kindnesses he did attempt to show. Luke carried the responsibility of being the pastor’s son on his shoulders. He had been the recipient of a full football scholarship to college, but after he was injured, it was rescinded. Both Nadia and Luke seemed to address and satisfy their own needs first, often without thinking about consequences. They didn’t accept responsibility for the results of their actions. Aubrey, on the other hand was respected as a quiet, kind and responsible young girl who responded kindly to the needs of others. So, the story is essentially about the relationships between Nadia and Luke, Nadia and Aubrey, and Aubrey and Luke. Hovering over them, like a shadow, were the mothers that observed and noted the goings-on in the community, responded to those in need, but also judged and buzzed with their gossip, often influencing behavior with detrimental results.
As the details of the lives of Nadia, Luke and Aubrey were explored, the story took shape. The reader watched as Nadia matured, Aubrey overcame her fears, and Luke became a more responsible man. They each had scores to settle or learn to accept. Their sometimes self-destructive behavior and interactions with each other were examined, in detail, by the author, as was their own self- examination as they recognized and attempted to correct their shortcomings, repent for their sins, accept what they could not change, deal with their painful memories, and apologize for their mistakes. The reader is a voyeur as they move on with their lives, each in their own way.
The author wove threads of her life throughout the novel, a novel that was read well, with appropriate accents, expression and emphasis by the narrator Adenrele Ojo.
***These are several different themes addressed in the book which would make for interesting book group discussions:
1-Nadia’s mother abandoned her when she committed suicide. Nadia was angry about how her life had turned out, unexpectedly.
2-Aubrey’s mom neglected her and allowed her to be sexually abused. She was sad and hurt and went to live with her sister and her sister’s partner who gave her a more wholesome environment.
3-Luke’s mother expected him to behave properly but he was wayward and willful, even though he was a pastor’s son. His parents protected and guarded his image.
4-The mothers congregating in The Upper Room Chapel were nostalgic about their pasts as they observed the young people and how things had changed.
5-Interracial relationships were accepted and were easy-going and natural.
6-The conflict between becoming a mother and/or getting an education took center stage allowing for a discussion on the subject of abortion.
7-Each of the mothers approached life and their family in different ways.
8-Each of the young adults dealt with their disappointments in life differently and grew in their own individual way as they faced their problems.