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A Kind of Freedom

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"A brilliant mosaic of an African American family and a love song to New Orleans...written with deep insight and devastating honesty but also with grace and beauty." —Dana Johnson, author of Elsewhere, California

Evelyn is a Creole woman who comes of age in New Orleans at the height of World War II. Her family inhabits the upper echelon of Black society, and when she falls for no-account Renard, she is forced to choose between her life of privilege and the man she loves.

In 1982, Evelyn’s daughter, Jackie, is a frazzled single mother grappling with her absent husband’s drug addiction. Just as she comes to terms with his abandoning the family, he returns, ready to resume their old life. Jackie must decide if the promise of her husband is worth the near certainty he'll leave again.

Jackie’s son, T.C., loves the creative process of growing marijuana more than the weed itself. He was a square before Hurricane Katrina, but the New Orleans he knew didn't survive the storm. Fresh out of a four-month stint for drug charges, T.C. decides to start over—until an old friend convinces him to stake his new beginning on one last deal.

For Evelyn, Jim Crow is an ongoing reality, and in its wake new threats spring up to haunt her descendants. A Kind of Freedom is an urgent novel that explores the legacy of racial disparity in the South through a poignant and redemptive family history.

257 pages, Kindle Edition

First published August 8, 2017

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Margaret Wilkerson Sexton

3 books601 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 709 reviews
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,738 reviews14.1k followers
August 26, 2017
Eleanor and her sister Ruby are sisters living in New Orleans. As Creoles they have a higher standard of living then many, their father a respected doctor, and as such they escape much of the racism inherent in the South. When Eleanor falls for a man, who has nothing, a man not her social equal, her standard of living drops drastically. Like her mother she too will have two daughters, and her daughter Jackie will fall in love with a man trying to fight a drug addiction, and their son will spend time in prison for trying to escape the jobless circumstances in which he finds himself.

Another timely read, at least here in the USA, with the Black Lives Matter movement. The novel spans seventy years, and represents a family whose circumstances continue to fall lower than the previous generations. Drugs, post Katrina, lives destroyed but hitting the black population in greater numbers.
The women are the stronger characters in this story, the men try but seem to get in their own way, they can see what they want, they just reach for it in the wrong way. Even the characters that are making wrong decisions, are not unlikable, they are just defeated by circumstances that are stronger than their will.

Well written, honest and forthright, a novel highlighting many of the problems caused by poverty and drugs.

ARC from edelweiss.
Profile Image for Michelle.
651 reviews181 followers
January 30, 2018
“They were the children of once-upon-a-time slaves, born into a kind of freedom, but they had traveled down through the wombs with what all their kind had been born with — the knowledge that God had promised next week to everyone but themselves.” – Edward P Jones, All Aunt Hagar’s Children

A Kind of Freedom is a family saga that covers three generations from 1944 through 2011. It is told through the viewpoints of three different narrators each representing different key timeframes in the American Black experience.

The first of these is Evelyn. She comes from a well-to-do Creole family with high expectations for their daughters. It is 1944; nearly 100 years since the abolition of slavery but before the Civil Rights movement. America is at war with Nazi Germany. Evelyn’s relationship with Renard, a bright hard-working student with uneven hems in his suit pants, highlights not only the colorism and classism that existed within the Black community, but brings to the forefront the dilemma faced by African-Americans during World War II. Should they actively engage in a war oversees when the real battle was at home? How do you fight for someone else’s rights when you don’t have your own? When Renard returns home from the war news of Evelyn’s pregnancy sends him soaring. But it is the treatment of the Black soldiers at the hands of their fellow countrymen that brings him to tears. To envision the possibility of true freedom in their dealings with the other Allied Forces yet fall prey to discrimination. There he stood as a hero who had fought and risked his life for his country and still he had to endure stark disparities in “colored” soldiers’ barracks and resources as well as abuses by white American soldiers.

Evelyn and Renard’s eldest daughter Jackie is the 2nd narrator in the story. It is now 1986 and Black Americans have made strides not only in music, film and sports, but also in science, medicine and academia as well. It is also the height of the crack epidemic. The pull of addiction and the struggle to break free from its hold is experienced through Jackie’s pharmacist husband Terry after he becomes addicted to crack.

2010 brings us to the last narrator – Jackie and Terry’s son, T.C. This segment begins with T. C.’s release from prison. Incarcerated for possession with the intent to sell, T.C. gets released early due to prison overcrowding just as his girlfriend is about to give birth to his son.
It is five years since the levees broke. By this time America is supposed to be a post-racial society and yet Hurricane Katrina saw a delayed response in part due to the negative representation of Black victims in the media. More than 1,800 people died, the land was ravaged, homes lost and yet -- the government waited. T.C. gives voice to the communities that still haven’t rebounded, that lay desolate and ruined; their inhabitants trapped in a wasteland they can’t afford to flee nor redeem.

Although she touches upon all these weighty topics, Sexton’s characters are so well developed that your focus is on the intriguing family saga. She does not hit you over the head with socio-political commentary. It is these nuances layered within the rich family dynamic that makes A Kind of Freedom such a powerful book.
Profile Image for Faith.
1,850 reviews520 followers
September 13, 2022
I was sad when this book ended, and that's saying a lot coming from me because I usually think books are too long. I wanted to know more about each member of this extended creole family. The book is set in New Orleans in three time periods and skips back and forth among the stories of the three main protagonists.

In 1944 Evelyn is attending nursing school. She and her two siblings are the children of a doctor. Her father has ambitions for her which go awry when Evelyn falls in love with Renard, who faces both financial difficulties and racism.

In 1986 Jackie, the daughter of Evelyn and Renard, has an infant son T.C. with her mostly-absent husband Terry. Terry was a pharmacist who destroyed his career and marriage through drug addiction.

In 2010 T.C. is just out of jail after a four month sentence for growing and selling marijuana. He had other hopes for his future that were thwarted by a torn knee and post-Katrina economic decline. Things appear to be turning around for him when his son is born. I really, really hope so because this is an extremely likeable and relatable group of characters.

This seems to be the author's first book and it was an impressive accomplishment. It was very well written and completely engaging. I would be happy to read more by her. The audiobook had three narrators and each was excellent.

I received a free copy of the ebook from the publisher, but I wound up borrowing and listening to an audiobook from the library.
Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,606 reviews2,055 followers
November 2, 2017
My entire reading life is spent chasing a specific kind of thrill, the thrill of being so emotionally involved in a story that it has power over me. I look for other thrills too but this is the one that I want most, and sometimes I go for long stretches without feeling it. I was in that kind of stretch recently. I read most of the best books of 2017 very early in the year but then there were many perfectly good books but books that didn't have absolute control over my brain. Until now.

There are two things that make this book work so perfectly. There's the characters themselves, they are drawn warmly and intimately, the three generations presented to us at a time of their greatest joy and greatest vulnerability. Seeing characters in that moment, where there is so much to gain and so much to lose all at once, ties you to them. Secondly, there's this book's structure, which at first glance seems like the kind of simple multigenerational span that is common in fiction these days. The reason it works so well is because of the first thing, that specific emotional moment we have seen in each character. We see them at a moment of promise and then we jump a generation later to immediately get to see how it all panned out.

Sexton is able to do this same thing over and over again, and yet even after the initial realizations of where these characters start and where they end, she continues to tell us these stories of hope and promise, even when we know how they end. We don't get many of the dots inbetween connected, we don't get to see how these characters went from A to B, instead we see just how much people are capable of change. And we see the inevitable rise of hope in each generation as they look at the generation to follow.

As mentioned in the summary, this is absolutely a book about race and the limitations the characters face because of their place in society. But it skips the Civil Rights Era entirely, and doesn't use specific incidents of racism to call our attention to it. Instead, like so often in real life, it is insidious and engages with larger systems, class, and gender in complicated ways.

I was immediately engaged in this book, it took me a few days to read it because even though it's not long, I needed some space with all the emotions it drew out of me. I'm so glad the National Book Award brought this gem to my attention. It's one of the great reading pleasures I had this year and I hope we see many more from Sexton.
Profile Image for Jessica.
8 reviews
May 26, 2017
I love love love this book. The author tells a beautifully tragic story of young love, upward mobility, ambition, success, unrealized potential, and even mental illness across three generations of a New Orleans family. Throughout, she delicately and expertly balances heavy themes of race, class, and colorism within a moving and suspenseful plot.

I have read tons of novels and I enjoy jumping into the lives of characters and imagining what might happen when the written story ends. While reading, I was left wondering--worrying even--about the characters when I had to put the book down to sleep. Upon finishing, I came away a little sad, but mostly hopeful for the characters she portrayed. Unlike many novels, this one did not leave me disappointed at the end.

One of my favorite aspects of 'A Kind of Freedom,' was the honest and unapologetic portrayal of New Orleans. Many people, myself included, visit New Orleans without leaving the French Quarter. We eat overpriced po'boys, binets at Cafe du Monde, and drink our way through the city, never bothering to really explore the city. The author subtly educates us on the disenfranchisement of many Black New Orleans residents within the context of internal and external racism. And while many have forgotten about Hurricane Katrina, this novel reminds us that Katrina devastated and displaced entire communities of people--some of whom were never able to return.

'A Kind of Freedom' is raw, intimate, and touching. A definite must-read for lovers of thought-provoking fiction.
August 28, 2021
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“That was the thing about people on the outside. They thought it cheered him up to see their faces, but it just reminded him too much of freedom when everybody knew it was better to adjust to the kind of freedom available on the inside.”

Heartbreaking yet luminous A Kind of Freedom is a truly impressive debut. Margaret Wilkerson Sexton's prose struck me as assured and lucid. Sexton entwines three narratives, each following a different generation of the same family. In 1944 we follow Evelyn who lives in New Orleans with her family. Her pale skin and her father's profession give her certain privilege in the city's black community so when she falls in love with Renard, a boy who aspires to be a doctor but is looked down upon for being working class, Evelyn is forced to contend between responsibility—towards her parents—and freedom—to love who she wants. WWII and segregation pose a further threat to the couple.
In 1986 we follow their daughter, Jackie, as she tries to juggle single motherhood with work and house chores. Her husband, Terry, disappeared from her life after he became addicted to crack. After months without a word from him, he reappears, claiming that he's clean and is actively trying to keep it that away. Knowing that to let Terry back into her life will not only earn the disapproval of her loved ones but might eventually result in more hurt, Jackie is torn between hope and fear.
We then have chapters set in 2010. T.C., Jackie's son, has just been released from a four-month stint in prison. His girlfriend is pregnant and in spite of him being less than faithful he now wants to make things right with her. However, he immediately falls back into bad habits when he reconnects with his friend Tiger. Here we see the aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans, specifically on T.C.'s community.
Regardless of the period Sexton is depicting, the setting and time are rendered in vivid detail. She evokes the atmosphere of the places she writes of as well as the changing vernacular. Sexton also emphasises the way in which racial inequality has morphed over the decades and the way this in turn affects and shapes Evelyn and her descendants. In her portrayals of addiction and poverty Sexton writes with empathy and insight, conveying the despair, fatigue, and anguish of those who like Jackie love someone who is abusing dangerous substances. Much of Jackie's story hit close to home so I found her chapters to be painful reading material. There are moments of beauty and communion, made even more poignant by how rare they are. Although Sexton reveals the eventual outcome of Evelyn and Jackie's narratives in T.C.'s chapters, when we returned to them I still found myself engrossed in their stories, hoping against hope that things would not unfold the way I know they will.
Sexton captures three generations of an African-American family who is trying to navigate a less than civil landscape. The characters have to contend with a society that is rife with injustices (racial disparity, classism, colorism, sexism, environmental disasters, drug epidemics, crime) and their attempts balance familial or societal duties with their personal desires. As the title itself suggests, the narratives are very much about freedom. Each character is trying their hardest to be free.
A Kind of Freedom filled me with sorrow. Sexton has written a heartbreaking debut novel, one that gripped me not for its plot but for its beautifully complex character studies.
Profile Image for Trudie.
526 reviews562 followers
October 6, 2017
I picked this book up on a whim after I saw it on the National Book Awards longlist and was also delighted to find it available here in my local library in NZ.

Set in New Orleans and jumping between three generations of the same family it initially reminded me of another debut novel Homegoing in particular the way both authors trace the effects of racism through multiple generations. I think A Kind of Freedom does this less overtly, however the reader is left in no doubt as to the reasons why almost all the men in this novel are worn down and acting out in various ways.

Despite this book having incredibly strong female characters I was left pondering mostly about the importance of fathers. Of all the characters, the one male perspective - T.C was the most convincing to me, his storyline had elements of The Wire to it which appealed to me but also the parts of the novel set in the 2000s just flowed better. When we switched back to 1940s New Orleans I thought the author was straining a little hard to get the historical details right and it didn't quite read as easily as a result.
Still, this is a very impressive first novel and it gave me plenty of insight into some of the social problems facing places like New Orleans.

Thank you National Book Award for flagging up this novel that I may otherwise have missed.
Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews128k followers
August 16, 2017
Spanning over 70 years, this powerful debut novel follows a Creole woman and her children in New Orleans as they deal with love, addiction, racism, redemption, and the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina. It’s a stark look at the legacy of racial disparity in the South, as Eleanor and her family seek to make a life for themselves.

Backlist bump: Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile

Tune in to our weekly podcast dedicated to all things new books, All The Books: http://bookriot.com/listen/shows/allt...
Profile Image for Joy D.
1,904 reviews221 followers
December 31, 2019
Set in New Orleans in three time periods, this novel follows the stories of three individuals of different generations in the same family. In 1944, Evelyn, daughter of a successful black doctor, develops a relationship with a young man from a lower social station, though his future appears bright. In 1986, Evelyn’s daughter, Jackie, a new mother, is coping with her husband’s drug addiction. In 2010, as the city is dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Jackie’s son, T.C., is being released from prison and is about to become a father.

The story arc is almost the opposite of what would be expected. With the passage of time, the family’s situation deteriorates. The author explores factors that contribute to ongoing racial disparity in a way that inspires compassion and does an excellent job of instilling hopefulness even when many adverse events are occurring in these family members’ lives. Though part of it is a coming of age story, I would not classify it as “young adult” due to the descriptions of drug addiction and small amount of explicit sex.

The structure of the book one in which the three primary plot lines are interwoven and non-linear, so the reader knows some of what happens before the story gets to how it happened. This approach is very effective, as the reader keeps rooting for the characters to succeed, even though we know some of their obstacles and choices are going to make life difficult for them. This is primarily a character-driven novel and the characters feel authentic. I could relate to their struggles, which says a lot about the author’s ability to appeal to a diverse audience. It is a subtle commentary on the racial issues that still permeate our society.
Profile Image for Meike.
1,518 reviews2,469 followers
May 23, 2018
Move over, Jonathan Franzen, this is only Margaret Wilkerson Sexton's first (!) book and she already wrote a blues version of the Great American Novel. Set in the author's hometown of New Orleans and spanning from 1944 until 2010, "A Kind of Freedom" tells the story of three generations of a black family. The protagonists are confronted with different historical events, from WW II to hurricane Katrina, and are subjected to the changing nature of racial relations over the course of these decades. All of the main characters - Evelyn, who falls in love with a poor man and gets pregnant without being married; Jackie, who struggles with her husband's addiction to crack; and T. C., who tries to leave his life as a criminal behind to provide for his son - are desperately trying to make the best choices, while facing immense odds.

The story does not only take place in the birthplace of jazz, the text itself and the lives that are portrayed feel syncopated and full of blue notes. As every good jazz musicians, Wilkerson Sexton knows her scales and modulations by heart, and she makes the three interlocking plotlines flow naturally. The way she describes her characters, their motivations and troubles, is highly empathetic and engaging, but never pedagogic or kitsch. Another striking feature of the text is its distinct sound, and I read that the language is somewhat typical for New Orleans (unfortunately, I have never been there, so I can't judge this).

I am very impressed by this achievement, and I hope that Wilkerson Sexton will be one of the NBA finalists!
Profile Image for Donna.
3,903 reviews21 followers
October 8, 2017
This is a short book, but it seems much shorter because it spans 3 separate generations. It starts out in the 1940's with a well off Creole family. I think I enjoyed that story the most. Then the next generation, takes place in the 1980's, and the third generation is set in 2010. The time frame also seemed a little too stretched out. The characters seemed much younger in the subsequent generations but when I did the math of the years, I thought they should have been older.

I liked this. It was a sad story. Overall, I wanted more info. The three different generations felt like little vignettes instead of one cohesive story. The characters were wonderful, but they were all missing something....like more story, back story, emotion, etc.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,470 reviews566 followers
March 3, 2018
[4+] I finished A Kind of Freedom right before my first visit to New Orleans a few days ago. The novel is about three generations of families in New Orleans - during WWII, in the 80s and the present (post Katrina). Sexton writes well, exploring their lives and the legacy of racism in the South. It was an involving, powerful read and lingered with me throughout my days in New Orleans, informing the way I saw the city.
Profile Image for Never Without a Book.
468 reviews99 followers
July 15, 2018
The end of slavery meant freedom, but not entirely. A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Sexton tells the story of three generations of one black family in New Orleans, as told through three of its members: Evelyn, her daughter Jackie, and Jackie's son T.C. Shifting between 1940’s, 1980’s and 2010.
Evelyn, a daughter of a well-to-do family (her mother is Creole, her father a black doctor who has raised himself to respectability), and Renard, a young man from a poor Twelfth Ward neighborhood who works menial jobs at a restaurant but aspires to study medicine. Their courtship, though ardent, reveals the strictures of a class- and color-riven society that suffocates ambition and distorts desire.
Forty years later, Evelyn’s daughter Jackie is a struggling single mother in 1980s New Orleans who is in love with her child’s father but afraid he will succumb to his crack addiction.
Then we get to know Jackie’s son, T.C., in 2010, a young man at a turning point in his life.
This book attends to the marks left on a family where its links have been bruised and sometimes broken, but dwells on the endurance and not the damage. The characters are likeable and you find yourself rooting for them; however, I questioned the plot. I’m not sure what direction Sexton was try to give the reader. I wanted more to reel me in and I never got it, especially with Evelyn and Renard and how they turned out after they got married. TC's story was the only one that felt complete. It was very well-developed. I know there was more going on with Jackie, but the reader is left to fill in the gaps.
Profile Image for Nakia.
387 reviews233 followers
October 2, 2017
Great writing. Great debut.

I think I would have enjoyed this more had the story been linear and if there had been more information about each generation. Jumping back and forth between generations kept pulling me out of the current story. I also wanted to know so much more, especially about Evelyn and how she handled motherhood and marriage to Renard. I loved their story, and Ruby's audacious behavior was so entertaining. I wanted to stay with them throughout the novel, or at least stay with them longer. This may be the first time I've ever felt like a novel should be 100-200 more pages.

Also, my heart plummeted at the end of Evelyn, Jackie, and T.C's sections. I wish more happiness/redemption could have been thrown in for each of them.

The best part of the novel was the setting. I love me some N'awlins, and the points of interest scattered throughout kept me glued to the page.
Profile Image for Gabriella.
273 reviews249 followers
April 2, 2018
Margaret Wilkerson Sexton’s debut novel is a densely layered, stunningly rendered account of three generations of New Orleanians, all of whom are striving to sustain their family’s wealth, health, and freedom by the means available to black people of their time.

Sexton’s account of the impermanence of black American wealth felt specifically relevant, given the New York Times’ recent study about the dismal outcomes for even the most well-off black boys. This piece received a WHOLE lot of buzz on my Twitter feed, mostly from people dismayed over how hard it was for black men to get ahead in this country. As a companion piece, A Kind of Freedom does a remarkable job at filling in the bleak, objective statistics of the study with authentic, subjective stories. These characters study and strive and are painstakingly close to graduating, or getting the right promotion, or overcoming their addictions. They felt so familiar, and just like our real-life stories that prove how very hard it is for even the most well-intentioned black families to keep their sons and husbands away from prison, unemployment, and addiction.

On the other hand, after I read the Times study, I felt, in a way, ignored. Obviously, the findings about black male earning potential (or lack thereof) implicate those who they are most often in relationship with, black women, a whole lot. Once again, I felt as if Sexton picked up where the study left off, by choosing to flesh out the lives of the long-suffering women supporting these troubled men. She shows how great their own dreams are, instead of simply focusing on the ones of their husbands or fathers, and even shows how their dreams are often crushed not by “the white man,” but by the men in their own households. She also isn’t afraid to create women who are dependent and more concerned with their men’s welfare than their own, in a way that felt greatly accurate, if not the most hashtag-feminist.

More on the women: there’s a lot of talk about how well this book depicts New Orleans, but I was most thematically drawn to Sexton’s portrayal of the family’s various sisters. These women are bickering and competitive, but also support each other through an untold number of family tragedies. Sexton does a lot of great work to show the gradients and complexity of this love, and I wish we’d been able to see it more.

I say this because by far, my biggest gripe with this book is ITS LENGTH! This is a 220-pager that could’ve easily gone on for double that, given the great work Sexton does with setting up the family members and their situations. I felt like the generational story we were promised was by no means resolved, or even fully explored, by the time we reached the supposed end. It’s the worst sort of tease, because you know these characters could become more familiar to you as a reader. This is the thing I love so much about intergenerational fiction—getting to sit in a story until its people start looking like their parents, and with even more time, start looking like your own family. With this novel, let’s just say I had time to sit down, but just when I thought about kicking my feet back, I was reading the Acknowledgements page.

I’m eager for Sexton’s future work, but pray it’s at least twice the length of A Kind of Freedom. After all, this novel clearly proves she has the chops to pull off something a lot more epic.
Profile Image for Lata.
3,614 reviews192 followers
October 20, 2018
This book brought tears to my eyes. The characters’ and their desires and dreams, so often thwarted by their reality and all its barriers, and the love and hope holding the different generations of a family together were all so beautifully written.
Profile Image for Anthony.
Author 4 books1,866 followers
August 23, 2022
I admired this novel’s subtlety, directness, and open-hearted approach to telling the stories of three generations of Black Americans living in New Orleans. Sexton has a perceptive ear for dialogue, and the bulk of her characters’ interactions ring true.

Perhaps because I read this novel directly following the virtuosic Iris Murdoch’s The Black Prince, I did long for a bit more urgency and dramatic tension in Sexton’s telling. But I’m still happy to have discovered her work, and I already own her follow-up to this debut novel. I am curious to see the evolution of her writing.
Profile Image for Paula Hagar.
860 reviews33 followers
January 17, 2020
I liked this book - what there was of it. And I wanted to love it, but there's not enough "there" there for me to even give it 4 stars. Covering 70 years and 3 generations, this book was too short to do real justice to any of the characters. I wanted more about everything: more about each one of the characters. More about life as a black person in New Orleans in the 1940's onward. More in general about everything. I suppose it would have to be another novel, but I'd love to have heard how and what these characters did in the 1960's Civil Rights era.

What was here was beautifully written, and excellently narrated, but it felt more like an outline than a fully developed novel. The characters were all so interesting that I couldn't help but want more about each of them.
Profile Image for Rachel.
582 reviews68 followers
September 12, 2018
I've been a bit more generous with my star ratings lately, but this novel is fully deserving of every single star. I'm reviewing this one for CHIRB and I'm trying to figure out how to possibly do this remarkable book justice. Another worthy contender for best book of the year.

Here's the link to the review: https://chireviewofbooks.com/2017/08/...
Profile Image for David.
603 reviews128 followers
September 6, 2020
Allow me to begin on a positive note: I really like this cover.

Also it is nice to see a young author get published. Also the National Book Award 2017 Fiction judges felt this was good enough to make their longlist. Also Sexton attempts to touch upon a number of very important topical issues like rascism, poverty, addiction, crime, faith, war, voter suppression, infidelity, food insecurity, and the importance of access to a good education.

Alright, people, I am done with the positive. There was almost nothing else I liked about this book. The issues listed above are uniformly treated too superficially for my tastes. There is a similar thinness to the characterizations. With 5 generations represented in a scant 226 pages, it's impossible to escape the sense that this author took on way too much at this point in her career.

The sections taking place in 2010-11 are by far the most convincing. The farther one gets from recent events, the less persuasive the story is. The Evelyn of 2010 is entirely believable but Evelyn in 1944 is not. On reflection I honestly did not get pulled in very often. Things felt artificial and designed to elicit particular responses from me rather than presented realistically enough to allow me to generate my own responses.

It seems probable that Sexton is writing about things she has heard of but not experienced first-hand. She likely knows people who have been in these situations but is herself one or more degrees of separation from them. A more seasoned writer could certainly get around this circumstance; here we have a new and inexperienced voice and I think it really shows. Rather than heeding the old admonition to "Write what you know", this writer seems to have written what she thinks she knows or - even more likely - what she recognized she should know.

For example there are myriad details regarding foods, pop music, celebrated New Orleans locales, historical events, and jingoistic turns of phrase which feel placed rather than incorporated. It's as though the author created checklists from which she could draw, at will, the colorful specifics she needed to lend authenticity to the narrative. The effort is praiseworthy but the execution is not.

I found the writing overly fussy, with flowery prose applied liberally to melodramatic situations. Phrases are often off the mark and awkward: "the palms of her feet", "grasp his attention", and "pants hanging below his drawls". And these are not found within dialogue, where voice can be liguistically and artfully incorrect; these are descriptions from the omniscient narrator.

The more I noticed these things, the worst it got. A book which would normally have taken me 3-4 days to complete required 11. And I finally lost my pediatric mind when I read this description of a newborn:

"...but Malik could fit in the palm of just one of his hands" followed sentences later by the descriptors "Twenty-two inches... Seven pounds, fifteen ounces." You might be able to carry that baby (ill-advisedly) in the palm of one foot - oops, I mean "hand" - but he will not fit. Believe me. Unless Daddy is Andre the Giant or Edward Scissorhands, no can do.

But I really do like this cover!
Profile Image for Cynthia.
633 reviews43 followers
January 23, 2018
Sexton takes us from World War II New Orleans through 2010 by tracing the adventures of a family. The story begins with twenty-two year old Evelyn, who’s studying to become a nurse, then to Jackie Marie who married her high school sweetheart, and finally to her son T. C. Like most people’s lives there experience is alternately happy and sad but a thread that runs through out the book are relationships between the women especially sisters and how they can be loving and enriching whole also competitive. Of course because this is New Orleans T. C.’s story is filled with the sorrow caused by Katrina. Another theme is institutionalized racism.

I suppose Sexton was referencing both the racism and the push pull of family love with her title, A Kind of Freedom, because racism forces people to consciously work to achieve or maintain personal freedom and life within families is a balance between the needs of the group versus a need for individuality. Last chasing such freedom depends on holding on to a sense of hope and that’s the biggest obstacle everyone faces...you want to hold on to the dream but you’re confronted with day to day reality. That’s the challenge.

Thank you to the publisher for providing an advance reader’s copy.
Profile Image for Kasa Cotugno.
2,356 reviews455 followers
August 21, 2017
The end of slavery meant freedom, but not entirely. Life in 1944 New Orleans is far from ideal for this despite their privileged beginnings as the only Creole physician in the Seventh Ward. Nelson and his wife only want the best for their two daughters, but life doesn't always run the track we want it to. Shifting between 1944, 1986 and 2010, the course of the family is charted through three succeeding generations, and becomes richer with each invocation until when the final page is turned, set back to 1944, there is a lingering heartache in the knowledge of what the future holds for these people. In that it reminded me of Harold Pinter's play Betrayal - told in reverse, it became more poignant. I also liked the fact that New Orleans is not sentimentalized but used as a backdrop for real life.
Profile Image for Kay.
220 reviews
December 31, 2017
A Kind of Freedom is one hell of a page turner. Even though there was a bit of a lag towards the second half, I definitely enjoyed this story.
Profile Image for LindaJ^.
2,134 reviews6 followers
September 23, 2017
This is the first of the 10 books on the 2017 National Book Award Fiction longlist I have read. It is a debut novel. The book is told by three members of an extended family living in New Orleans. The three family members are Evelyn (mother of second narrator and grandmother of the third narrator), Jackie (daughter of Evelyn and mother of the third narrator), and T.C. (grandson of Evelyn and son of Jackie).

We hear first from Evelyn, then Jackie, and then T.C., each telling the story of the family for their generation. Evelyn's story starts in 1944 when she first meets Renaud. Her story, spread over the span of the book, focuses on her relationship with her parents, her sister Ruby, and Renaud. It ends with her marriage to Renaud when he returns from WWII and she is very pregnant. Her story is peppered with encounters with white policemen and incidents of separation of blacks and whites -- on buses, trains, cafes, and more. Evelyn's father is one of the first "negro" doctors and her family lives in a neighborhood where financially well off African -Americans live.

Jackie is our second narrator. It took me a bit to appreciate that she was Evelyn's and Renaud's second child. Her sister Sylvia, a criminal lawyer, is nine years older. As Jackie's story opens in the late 1970's, her son T.C. has just been born, her husband Terry has not been seen for awhile, and she is working for her parents at a school her father established. Her story focuses on a few months in her troubled marriage to Terry. Terry, a pharmacist, is a crack addict who returns after his second or third stint in rehab determined to be there for his family. Jackie's family has little faith in Terry staying clean. Jackie slowly starts to trust him but that trust is soon breached. Great things are expected from Terry but he finds himself as the only black person in all his jobs and it seems to do something to his confidence.

Finally we hear from T.C. His story starts as he is released from prison, having spent 4 months in jail for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. He leaves prison intending to get a job and be a father to his as yet unborn son. At the urging of his best friend, he is soon again growing marijuana. His son is born and he is determined to marry his son's mother and accept the job his Aunt Sylvia has arranged at her law firm. But before he manages to do that, he is picked up with about a pound of marijuana in his possession and finds himself back in prison on a 3 year sentence.

I had not read anything about this book before I started it. As I listened to Evelyn's first section I wondered why this story of a the romances of two sisters in the 1940's was on the longlist. When the narrator changed (a different person reads each narrator's sections, so it is easy to hear the change), I wondered what relation Jackie had with the romance. It soon became clear who Jackie was and her story was certainly not a romance. And when T.C. begins his story with his prison release, I felt real sadness -- how did the much loved T.C. end up in prison? When the cycle brings us back to Evelyn, I am no longer thinking romance. While Evelyn and Renaud's marriage is solid, I now know things have not gone so well for their daughter Jackie and their grandson T.C. Hurricane Katrina plays a role - from T.C. we see how Katrina changed New Orleans, especially African-American neighborhoods. There is no preaching in this book. It tells a story and lets you draw your own conclusions.
Profile Image for Britt.
111 reviews56 followers
April 23, 2018
I read this book as I was writing my wedding vows. It brought a very grounding emotion to this my 50-11th draft. I loved the way Sexton allowed the characters to make real life decisions and it made the characters easy to connect with. I finished it overnight in one sitting and I look foreward to reading it again in the future.
593 reviews15 followers
November 23, 2022
This is a beautifully written book, my first of this author, but not my last, if this is the standard. I loved the way I could see the characters in my head, and they felt so real. The two time periods work well, and the narrator is perfect.
Profile Image for El.
1,355 reviews503 followers
October 11, 2018
I have really been attentive to first lines in essays, memoirs, books lately. "Later, Evelyn would look back and remember that she wasn't the one who noticed Renard first" (p1).

I was drawn in by that first line. I found the whole multi-generational novel about love and racial inequality in a New Orleans family a wonderful read, only more impressive to realize this is Sexton's debut novel. We're in for a treat with her, I think, and I cannot wait to read more of her fiction.

The story begins in 1944 from Evelyn's perspective, and then jumps to 1986 from her daughter, Jackie's, perspective. And then there's even 2010 from the perspective of T.C., Jackie's son. The family stories are unfolded masterfully between the three generations which gave all of their individual stories an especially rich reading experience. "Freedom" is a theme throughout the different generations in varying ways:
They thought it cheered [T.C.] up to see their faces, but it just reminded him too much of freedom when everybody knew it was better to adjust to the kind of freedom available on the inside.
I read this as part of my in-person book club, but then wasn't able to make it to the meeting, so I don't know how the other members felt about it. Personally, I found it a great and important read. Readers who enjoyed The Turner House would most likely also enjoy this one. They're both wonderful novels.
Profile Image for Jan.
1,075 reviews29 followers
November 3, 2017
A short novel given that it shows institutional racism, family relations and personal choices as they unfold over three generations in New Orleans. The characters are well drawn but the episodic structure and cross-cutting story lines tend to soften the intensity. Still, an enjoyable read, and the audiobook is very well performed by Bahni Turpin, Kevin Kenerly and Adenrele Ojo. Glad the National Book Award long list brought this book to my attention.
Profile Image for Charlotte.
383 reviews100 followers
September 29, 2019
A Kind of Freedom describes the legacy of slavery carried on as institutionalized racism through a multigenerational story of a Black family in New Orleans.

We follow three main characters through which the story is told: Evelyn in the 1940s who falls in love with less well-off Renard, her daughter Jackie in the 1980s who just had a baby and is trying to figure out life with her husband who is trying to recover from drug addiction, and finally Jackie’s son T.C. in the 2010’s who has just been released from prison after he has been charged for possession of marijuana.

This story is the personalized version of major political and social movements in the United States over the span of about 100 years. During the late Jim Crow era, Renard struggles with thoughts of sacrificing his own life during WWII just to be deemed half American at home and wonders if his service will be recognized and help offer a better future for the following generation. “When Americans celebrate the country’s victory in WWII, but forget that the U.S. armed forces were segregated, that the Red Cross segregated blood donors or that many black WWII veterans returned to the country only to be denied jobs or housing, it becomes all the more difficult to talk honestly about racism today.” (Matthew Delmont, Smithsonian.com) Socially disadvantages communities post-WWII suffered further when global competition led to a so called “double-dip recession” in 1980-1982 and a lot of blue-collar jobs were lost and unemployment increased by 2.6%. The social gap widened and at the same time crack cocaine from South America found its way into the (southern) US. Jackie’s husband Terry is trying to fight his addiction with no community support and a whole lot of prejudice against him that will affect the future of his whole family. Started by the Nixon campaign and White House, followed by Reagan and finally Bill Clinton, the “war on drugs” is “a major policy, with massive implications on spending and societal impact, to declare two classes of people [Blacks and the antiwar left] should be destroyed, locked up if possible for the convenience and pleasure of people in power. The justice system was warped into a private enforcer.” [Erik Sherman, Forbes Magazine] T.C. who was a was a promising athlete and had some setbacks due to health issues, finds himself in post-Katrina New Orleans with his options for a future shaped by inflated marijuana possession laws, the three-strike policy, and disproportional incarceration of African-Americans.

The author tackles so many important topics and it’s hard to believe that this is her debut novel. The characters are realistic and relatable. I think T.C.’s storyline was the most developed and I found myself wanting a bit more from Evelyn’s and Jackie’s narration. I definitely recommend that you pick up this novel!

4.5/5 stars
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