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Saint Monkey: A Novel
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Saint Monkey: A Novel

3.58  ·  Rating Details  ·  297 Ratings  ·  71 Reviews
Fourteen-year-old Audrey Martin, with her Poindexter glasses and her head humming the 3/4 meter of gospel music, knows she’ll never get out of Kentucky—but when her fingers touch the piano keys, the whole church trembles. Her best friend, Caroline, daydreams about Hollywood stardom, but both girls feel destined to languish in a slow-moving stopover town in Montgomery Count ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published February 24th 2014 by W. W. Norton & Company
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I fell in love with Townsend's rendering of friendships between damaged girls, down on its luck Appalachia, and 1950's jazz age, Apollo Theater Harlem (and the impermanence of attraction that comes along with that scene).

However, this book has a "what in the hell, why would you ever do that" ending for one of its main characters that weakened the whole thing for me.

For the curious: (view spoiler)
Dec 18, 2014 Mel rated it liked it
Saint Monkey, started out slow for me. But as I started reading more about Caroline and Audrey I couldn't put it down. Caroline and Audrey are two young Black girls growing up poor in Kentucky. They call themselves friends. But, their friendship is really based on loss. Audrey's father dies in the war. Caroline's mother is killed by her father. They are very different. Caroline is reckless. She has the responsibility of taking care of her young sister and her grandmother after her father murders ...more
Denise Cooper
Oct 10, 2014 Denise Cooper rated it liked it
I truly enjoyed the journey of a friendship, when its good and bad, in reality or sometimes in our heads. There was a beautiful presence of music that seemed to be a star of this book and just as palpable as the main characters. I listen o these gifted beyond belief musicians and felt a sence of home to hear the mention of their names. I loved each and every name chosen for the characters, its one thing i look forward to when reading. I would recommend this book to everyone. Truly enjoyable.
Jul 09, 2015 Emma rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I guess I'm in the minority, but I thought this book was actually terrible, and a real chore to finish. Infuriatingly vague on details that matter, preciously specific on the details that don't. Plus deeply troubling "talented tenth" politics. There's amazing art and writing out there about the Great Migration, but this, unfortunately, is not one of those works.
La Tonya  Jordan
Jul 04, 2015 La Tonya Jordan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to La Tonya by: GO! ON! Girl! Book Club!
Shelves: good-read
In Mt. Sterling Kentucky where live goes on no matter what happens and the dream of leaving is a fantasy. Caroline Wallace is a young girl who dreams of leaving and hitting it big in Hollywood as a movie actress. Her best friend Audrey Martin dreams of nothing. As fate would have it, Audrey leaves Mt. Sterling for New York city to hopefully find her future in music, with the bands of the time, and the Apollo theatre. Instead she finds a journey of life not a destination. Caroline does not leave ...more
Jason Diamond
Mar 06, 2014 Jason Diamond rated it really liked it
I liked this book. I wrote about it at Flavorwire:
At a different time, distant from Thanksgiving and Christmas, I might have enjoyed reading this colorful story, of two young girls/women thrashing their way through grief, hormones, poverty, and racism. The writing is often beautifully poetic; in a abstract, gritty sort of way. Atmosphere, characterization, and volatility of time and place are boldly and honestly portrayed. The turnoff for me, like bitter dregs of coffee, was the relationship between Audrey and Caroline.

I hesitate to use the wo
Sep 13, 2014 stacia rated it it was ok
It took me longer than it should've to get through this novel and I skimmed full sections of it after awhile, but I also admire the relationship at the core of it. Caroline and Audrey's friendship feels fairly toxic but the venom that seems to course between them after a time wouldn't be potent if they'd never known a deep love for one another. The book resembles Sula in that way, except Caroline and Audrey's abandonments and betrayals if one another seem far more drastic and are never forgiven. ...more
Angie Hickman
Aug 18, 2014 Angie Hickman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I first began reading the print version of this novel. I found the poetic language in the first few pages so dense and rich (like the best flourless cake) that I was unable to consume it in very large bites. When the audio version became available, I was able to let the words wash over me while I washed produce and dishes and countertops.

It's as though Jacinda Townsend's story pulled out the part of my brain that I call "my guts," rearranged things a bit, then put it all back in, in the way that
Oct 22, 2015 Artis rated it it was ok
I really didn't care for this novel. I never quite understood the bond between Caroline and Audrey. Wasn't clear to me how their childhood created a bond, as I was lead to believe by reading the dust cover. The author writing style was engaging, sometimes, I felt that there were descriptions or details that had more to do with the author wanting to use certain words or phrases, than enhancing the story line. The beginning of the story dragged on too long and the end was too abrupt. I was left fe ...more
Denise Billings
Oct 08, 2014 Denise Billings rated it really liked it
Good literature. Set in 1957. I thought it was just another coming of age story until I got to page 26. I related to so much of what the characters endured.

Here's and example: On page 82 Caroline thinks Audrey acts like a white girl, "like she ain't got the White Kids' used school-books just like the rest of us, handed down to the Montgomery Colored (school) with 'Nigger, can you read this?' written across all the pages in red ink pen." Ouch. Townsend is really good at describing pain.

Jan 19, 2016 Beverly rated it really liked it
I originally selected this book to read because I saw that SOKY Reads (Southern Kentucky Reads) was using it as their One Book One Community Read for this fall. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to go down for the author's presentation. I wish I had been able to because : 1. I really enjoyed the book and 2. It turns out that Ms. Townsend teaches at Indiana University and I graduated from there. The story is of 2 young friends in a small Kentucky town. Audrey is 14 and plays piano in her community chu ...more
Sep 01, 2014 Maleah rated it it was amazing
Gritty luscious novel on par with Hurston and Morrison. I loved it and can't wait to read more of Jacinda Townsend's work.
Oct 22, 2015 Lisa rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book needs an editor. I have no idea how it was published. It has lots of scene but no plot. It reads like a nostalgic reunion of events years after they occurred. "You remember the time..." The snippets of memories never come into a story and the book doesn't have a real beginning, middle, and end. It all stays superficial without diving into emotion and meaning. It could be worked into 2-3 novels if any one thought were developed. I was drawn to read about friendships but the two characte ...more
May 08, 2014 Andre rated it really liked it
Good writers keep coming from everywhere with all sorts of stories. It's a wonderful thing to experience. Ms. Townsend has burst onto this scene with a crafty literary novel for her maiden voyage.

Essentially a coming of age story focused on the lives of Audrey and Caroline aka Pookie. The novel takes turns alternating between these two voices. Despite starting the girls' narrative at an early age the skillful writing helps to avoid that young adult feel. Her writing is engaging and she has some
I wanted to enjoy this more than I actually did. Which is not to say I didn't like it. I think my main problem with it was the writing style as I think it got a bit dry at times. I am certainly the Read to Escape kind of person and find it hard to read books that don't allow me to do that, either through their plot or writing style. It got better after the first third or so, especially once the girls grew up. On finishing the book I'm able to appreciate it as a whole and I think my rating for it ...more
Jenny Yates
Mar 19, 2016 Jenny Yates rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Townsend is a beautiful writer, and every page of this novel could be read for pure pleasure. The opening paragraphs are enough to make you realize that she can tell several interlocking stories with just a few words. Her style is so lyrical and evocative that it doesn’t matter that she occasionally leaves a few plot details to your imagination.

This novel is set in the late fifties, and it’s the story of two young Black women in a small Kentucky town. Audrey is skinny and bookish with thick gla
Jan 02, 2015 Shan rated it liked it
This is an ambitious novel and one that is very, very moving. It starts out with young Caroline and Audrey who early on in their lives experience loss and hardship and who both wish for something bigger than what their small town can offer them. But only Audrey gets the chance to make her dreams come true.

In terms of historical beauty, this is a fantastic novel. The segregated South and the freer North are played against each other, just as Caroline and Audrey are. Townsend’s writing really driv
Aug 24, 2015 MacK rated it really liked it
There's a point early on in Saint Monkey where everything feels too far away to touch. Caroline and Audrey are waiting for something to happen, coping with what their parents have done, trying to survive individual trauma, and reporting about each other rather than documenting their own lives. That's not easy to soldier through, but neither is childhood: a time when actions and events are every bit as distant as the plot is for our protagonists.

As they grow up and gain increasing agency over the
Libby Davies
Sep 20, 2015 Libby Davies rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The South in 1950's is not a common setting for contemporary fiction, but it allows Towsend's lyrical language to shine. By the middle of the story, when the setting shifts to Harlem, I was riveted by her recreation of period atmosphere which encompasses all senses. I found the unexpectedly shifting shape of the friendship between Audrey and Caroline somewhat puzzling; the combination of love and jealousy seen through their letters and encounters is painful, poignant, and finally unresolved. The ...more
Susan Emmet
Nov 14, 2014 Susan Emmet rated it really liked it
Musical, lyrical, jazzy, sharp-tongued novel, the first for Townsend.
I liked it alot despite some confusion in voice and plotting at a few points.
The voices of Audrey (Poindexter) and Caroline (Pookie) are clear as are their growings-up and deep roots in rural Kentucky. Audrey's time in Harlem playing piano at the Apollo, her doomed marriage to August the bassist, her deep friendship with Caroline that sours horribly over time, and the novel's ending (which for me was problematic) make this a no
Andrew Clem.
Jun 17, 2014 Andrew Clem. rated it liked it
This novel provides excellent character development of the two central characters and a strong sense of place both the black community in small town Kentucky and the Harlem music scene. The plot pacing is uneven with the last sections seeming rushed resulting in a less than satisfying ending. There are similarities to Toni Morrison's Sula, two friends in a small town in the Kentucky/Southern Ohio region, their struggles and desires to escape the confines of race and geography, their relationship ...more
Apr 15, 2014 Sheila rated it did not like it
I gave it a chance based on Goodreads reviews but after 1/3 of the book, I put it down. I just could not get into it.
Aug 06, 2014 Nakia rated it really liked it
Loved this book. Some of the most beautiful writing I've read in a long time. Deserves 4.5 stars.
The book started out slow, and I almost stopped reading. At some point though, I can't remember where, I got really invested and found myself anxious to get back to it. However, after a few high points, I felt the book getting slow again. Towards the end, the plot seemed very rushed and it didn't seem like there was much story left. I found myself having to re-read things several times to see if I missed something. I don't know, I really wanted to like this book but now that I'm done I feel like ...more
Weston High School Library
I'm going to take a risk here and predict that Saint Monkey will become a classic. Pookie and Audrey are first neighbors, then lifelong frenemies. Actually, "frenemy" describes merely the surface of their relationship. They are star crossed soul mates bound tightly together, testing, loving, hurting, disappointing and seeking each other throughout their entire lives.

Born in the "Colored" part of a tiny Appalachian town in Kentucky during the 40s, they have big dreams. Pookie will go to Hollywood
Aug 24, 2014 Marie rated it really liked it
This is the story of two young girls dealing with the pain of loss. They hold petty jealousies against one another and the fragile friendship falls apart. Both girls behave cruelly to one another in ways the other will never know of by withholding memories and belongings from each other. This book is rich in narrative and setting; the author's language and observations are beautifully wrought. I look forward to more stories by Ms. Townshend.
Sharron Brent-norwood
This was a bookclub selection that I really enjoyed until the end. It felt rushed and little unrealistic based on the character that Audrey had developed into. I felt the last few chapters were an unnecessary add and the book could have just as well ended in the parking lot of Audrey and August's last gig where the shooting occurred. Overall, it was great book but the ending nearly ruined it for me.
Nov 23, 2015 Debbe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This first novel set mostly in Mount Sterling, Kentucky is very well done. I liked how the book was told from the point of view of both main characters. I enjoyed the Jazz in the book and was happy to know I even understood the timing that Audrey so carefully counted. The 1950's experience of the African American community was realistic and sad.
Jul 14, 2014 Debbie rated it really liked it
A first novel, and in some places the writing somewhat overwhelms the clarity of what the author is trying to convey. Two girls grow up together in the same small Eastern Kentucky town. Both dream of being loved and somehow escaping the limitations of their town and their family. The relationship between the two, I couldn't call it friendship, is complex and full of both jealousy, bitterness and attraction.
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Mansfield Public ...: The"Saint Monkey" review by Angela Coye- Smith 1 5 Jul 12, 2014 11:52AM  
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Jacinda Townsend grew up in Southcentral Kentucky. She studied at Harvard University and Duke University Law School before receiving her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Since receiving her MFA she has been a Fulbright fellow to Côte d’Ivoire, a Carol Houck Smith fiction fellow at the University of Wisconsin, and a Hurston-Wright Award finalist. She lives in Bloomington, Indiana and teaches cr ...more
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