Charles's Reviews > Brown Girl in the Ring

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson
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Dec 03, 2015

really liked it
bookshelves: 2016-challenge, fantasy, science-fiction, stat_2, reviewed

Stuff I Read – Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson Review

That this is the first book by Halo Hopkinson I have read, I think, is not really to my shame. That I never picked up one of her books before is. Here is a rather intimate tale of family and oppression and faith and violence. About the ways that governments can fail and parents can fail and partners can fail but that people helping people can change the world. This is a story about the urge to pass along abuse, about the generational nature of oppression, but also about the other inheritances, ones that are capable of uplifting instead of trapping. It's an uncomfortable story much of the time, violent and personal and jarring, but it's also tightly worked and shines with a thread of hope even in the darkest of situations.

The novel emphasizes its focus on generations most with the main character, Ti-Jeanne, and her mother Mi-Jeanne and grandmother Gros-Jeanne. The three women make the most important triad in the story, their relationships the core of the tragedy and the core of the hope. They betray each other, hurt each other, even hate each other, but there is also love and there is also forgiveness and there is a sense that only through each other can they escape the cycle of violence and exploitation and subjugation they are stuck in. Much of this hast to do with their relationships to men, to how the abuse is passed down, from the ghosts of the men in their lives and from their presence. Because man do the men in their lives mess them up, take advantage of them, and ultimately betray them.

This is a dense and complex book and I love the way it crosses genre with effortless grace, mixing a future Toronto with lawless poverty and corruption butting up against the magic of the Ti-Jeanne's heritage. It's an interesting mix of magic and dystopian future, a great setting for a family drama that definitely keeps things dark. Because yes, this book is rather upsetting at times and for good reason, as it shows how hopeless poverty and oppression can be, how easy it is for those with some privilege to let themselves become monsters, and how powerless people can be at the very bottom. It's something that makes Ti-Jeanne almost a bystander in her own story, but I love the way that it twists the Chosen One tropes in order to tell a story that bitingly critical of any sort of savior. Instead, the focus becomes community and the power of faith and people to do good.

There's this strong sense that corruption comes from the few, from the individual over the community, and that the greatest help comes from helping people do what they're already doing. By trusting people to know how to help themselves and taking away the corruption that so often comes from exploiting the most vulnerable. The Jeannes in this story are all stuck because they remain prisoners to men, remain linked to those who exploit them. Tony might not quite be Rudy, but there are some striking similarities, the way that they both see themselves as victims, see their actions as necessary or justified. And I love that there is this chance, in Ti-Jeanne's child, to break the cycle. That the child is not named is great, that they are this blank canvas, that they are free to become something not defined by a history of violence, to get out of the patterns of abuse that have driven the family forward and apart.

And in the end the story does a fine job of telling a futuristic urban fantasy with a lot to think about. The characters pop, are vibrant and alive, and the setting is fleshed out, a character unto itself, with an arc that defines the novel, from oppression to…less oppression. From violence to…less violence. The book is not about there being one cure, one pill to make everything better. It's about doing the hard work and about coming together as people to change things. It's about family and about place and about hope when all seems hopeless. About faith. And to me it's an 8.25/10.
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Reading Progress

December 3, 2015 – Shelved
December 3, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
December 3, 2015 – Shelved as: 2016-challenge
January 7, 2016 – Shelved as: fantasy
January 7, 2016 – Shelved as: science-fiction
January 7, 2016 – Shelved as: stat_2
January 11, 2016 – Started Reading
January 11, 2016 –
page 256
100.0% "A complex story of family, magic, hate, and love. Rather uncomfortable at times but a great read."
January 11, 2016 – Finished Reading
January 14, 2016 – Shelved as: reviewed

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