4 out of 4 stars
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Jeannie Nicholas is a masterful storyteller. Her characters come to life in Kalayla. Nicholas dives deep in exploring various relationships. Nothing is off-limits. I've always loved that we can learn and grow by understanding others' triumphs and hardships, even if they are fictional characters. However, since nothing is off-limits, I would recommend this book to mature teens and older readers. It would make an excellent novel study for those with the heart to discuss difficult topics.
The story begins in 1999 and alternates between three primary characters sharing their innermost thoughts. Nicholas's characters come from all walks of life. Lena, who Kalayla refers to as the Old Lady, is financially comfortable yet chooses to live in a fourth-floor walkup. Maureen, Kalayla's mother, is an artistic widow from an interracial marriage that is attempting to raise an eleven-year-old by herself while barely managing to make ends meet. The primary character is Kalayla. She is stubborn, independent, sassy, and completely unafraid to speak her mind. I love her! Spanning three generations, these three characters somehow manage to create healing familial bonds and help each other through heartache, discrimination, and abuse, both past and present.
For some of us, 1999 doesn't seem that long ago, yet Kalayla manages to shed light on how far we've come as a society in accepting people for who they are and not their skin color. It also shows how far we have to go. When Maureen's well-to-do, white family and her lifelong friends turn their backs on her for falling in love with a black man, Maureen's world turns upside down. Having led a pretty sheltered life, Maureen experiences discrimination firsthand. Her carefree, loving attitude becomes withdrawn, skittish, and overly reliant on her doting husband. Do you see where we're going with this? Her world comes crashing down again when she suddenly becomes a widow.
Nicholas creates powerful images of how hate can shape a person's personality and drastically alter their life's course. Yet she also shows strength and compassion when unlikely people look out for and welcome strangers into their homes and hearts. There truly is power in empathy, forgiveness, and kindness. There is a popular phrase about how friends are the family that we choose for ourselves. That would be a pretty accurate theme for this book.
Kalayla deserves a four out of four star rating for all of the above reasons. I highly recommend it! In the recent version that I read, the text has been professionally edited. Other reviews mentioned that it had numerous errors, but they appear to have been corrected or are a deliberate author’s choice to sound like the characters.
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