Simon & Schuster, 336 pages
Published September 7, 2021
I often overhear the following: “I’d like to expand my reading list to include more authors of color; who do you recommend?” A common suggestion is to read a book about slavery from the turn of the last century or to consider a book about White privilege, which may or may not be written by an author of color. While knowing our history and addressing privilege are important, to understand our current world, we must engage with contemporary works by writers of color.
The memoir Three Girls from Bronzeville is an ideal choice – not only because it’s written by an African American woman – but because it is, at its heart, a coming-of-age story of friends, family and love to which we can relate. Dawn Turner grew up in a neighborhood in Chicago’s South Side with her sister and best friend; despite the shared social location and access to the same resources, the three women reached exceptionally different outcomes.
Turner, a successful journalist, points slightly to personal choices but also to the drastically different life experiences contributing to their disparate lives. She resists easy explanations, exploring the depth and subtle differences of each girl’s internal resiliency, curiosity and hope while delving into spiritual differences as well. As Christians, we see where the church stepped into (or was absent from) the formation of these young people’s lives.
“We all make mistakes,” Turner reflects. “We all make good and bad choices. Life can change in an instant and sometimes we avoid peril not because of any series of things we’ve done perfectly but by a grace far bigger than our own steps and missteps.” Grace, expected and unexpected, underlies their lives. The work also takes a deep dive into forgiveness by engaging the powerful nature of forgiveness and the destructive nature of refusing to forgive as well as the importance of forgiving oneself. Turner does not challenge simple systems or recommend simple solutions but engages the complexity of these situations.
Three Girls from Bronzeville made me deeply question my judgments, assumptions and values — as well as how to solve problems. Turner’s masterful writing allows her to examine the fullness of lives from birth to death and from generation to generation. At times, it looked like a character would reach a new beginning, but it wasn’t to be. Other times, what looked like the end led to a life richer than I could imagine. The stories of three girls are as much about race, fate and sisterhood as about faith and hope — all crucial to how we live and examine our lives.
For anyone who has ever lived or spent time in Chicago, there is the added treat of familiar names and places. Wherever you are from, however, you will remember and relate to the story of these three girls. At a time when I needed a substantive work that is not soul-crushing, this fit the bill.
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