A Knock at Midnight by debut writer/lawyer Brittany K. Barnett is a compelling memoir of justice, determination and freedom. The small-town Georgia native was in the midst of a successful career in finance in 2011, and headed to an even more lucrative one in corporate law when she came along the story of Sharanda Jones. Sharanda was a single mother who received a life sentence without parole for a first-time, nonviolent drug offense. The situation resonated with Brittany who herself was the daughter of a single mom, addicted to drugs, and constantly in and out of jail through little fault of her own but an untreated addiction. Although criminal justice law was not in Brittany’s wheelhouse at the time, she was determined learn what she needed in hopes of garnering Sharanda a second chance at life, along with family friends and former neighbors who had been unfairly impacted by a flawed justice system.
I dug into the history of federal drug legislation, trying to find justification for the clearly inequitable 100-to-1 crack-to-powder ratio. Surely there had to be some legislative. History that explained lawmakers’ rationale. … What little legislative history there was suggested that legislators justified penalties a hundred times harsher for crack cocaine for reasons unsubstantiated at the time … In the months leading up to the 1986 elections, more than one thousand articles appeared in major news outlets around the country focused on the devastation wrought by crack cocaine. The articles played on age-old racist white fears of Black criminality, ignoring the fact that white Americans used cocaine at higher rates than Black Americans.
Somewhere in between law school and Brittany’s mom’s legal and drug addiction struggles, her mother persevered, overcoming her habit (not while in prison) and released from the clutches of a failed system. It took several years, but thanks to Brittany’s persistence and Sharanda’s hopeful nature, the single mom who thought she’d never hug her kids again, let alone experience their life milestones as twenty-something-year-old women, her story too ends on an inspiring note. A Knock at Midnight is no ordinary book. It impressively weaves together elements of memoir, prison drama, and courtroom suspense, and it does so in a very approachable, accessible way for readers of all ages.
Publisher: Crown, an imprint of Random House
The Archer - If you’re looking for a novel that offers escapism, with a healthy dose of reality; family drama, with poetic lyricism, look no further than The Archer by Shruti Swamy. Taking place in 1960s- 1970s Bombay, it presents the idea and dilemma of independent womanhood, motherhood and artistic endeavors coexisting. When the protagonist, Vidya as a young girl, observes her mother and a class of women performing a native dance, she is vexed. She is determined to not only learn it, but perfect it. The pursuit of it means more than marriage, becoming a mother or her eventual college studies. It takes on even more meaning once she loses her mother while still only in high school. Of course her desire to be consumed by her art runs contrary to her father’s, her husband’s and societal expectations. Can Vidya have it all? Does she want it all or is her life’s ambition singular?
Although this is Samy’s debut novel, it is not her first publication. Her recently published collection of stories, A House is a Body, was dubbed by Kiese Laymon as “one of the greatest short story collections of the 2020s.” Given that, along with the The Archer’s original premise, it is no surprise that this is an impressive and wholly engaging debut from a unique writing talent who will only get better and better with each project.
Publisher: Algonquin Books, an imprint of Workman Press
Revival Season - While Revival Season by Monica West is a quick read, it is not necessarily an easy read. That is not to say it isn’t a well-executed, contemporary debut novel, because it is, but the subject matter about an abusive Southern Baptist preacher, is intense and heart-wrenching at times. The story’s main character, 15-year-old Miriam is the daughter of one of the South’s most prominent Black evangelists. As such, at the start of every summer, she and her family load up the family car and spend several weeks on the road, going from church to church for her father’s healing services.
During this one fateful summer, Miriam sees her passionate preacher father in a different light as she observes his temper targeted towards not only herself and her mother, but congregants. Maybe even doubling vexing is hearing her father accused of abusing a young girl. During that same revival season, Miriam learns that she may actually have the gift of healing her father may only be faking. Out of fear of her father’s jealousy, as well as his staunch belief that women cannot heal or have leadership positions in the church, she uses her “gift” sparingly and on the down low. With all the tumult of this particular season, Miriam’s belief in her father and religion is shaken to its core. The story of Revival Season is simple, yet somewhat unique in its exploration of a young girl’s faith in the face of an abusive father and a life-altering decision. It is both interesting and laudable that although a Black family is at the center of this story, race and racism are not. As a writer, her style is pared down and straight forward, maybe at first glance, even a bit underwhelming, with little to no lush, lyrical or memorable lines, per se. That said, with a debut such as this, West undeniably shows signs of an emerging talent to keep an eye on.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster