2 out of 4 stars
Share This Review
Becoming a young woman can be a difficult journey for any girl. Still, that difficulty compounds for a girl who is owned by someone else. Neffie is a black, enslaved, fifteen-year-old girl, growing up with her family on a plantation in Alabama. She shares some of her joys, and especially her hardships, in The Chronicles of Neffie, a historical fiction novel by author A.L. Gibson.
In this story that is loosely based on actual events, the heroine’s distinct voice immediately comes to life. Neffie relates her account in her natural way of speaking, with dashes of dry humor and moments of raw emotion. The novel effectively illustrates some of the ironies and complexities surrounding the issue of slavery. Intelligence and learning can be gifts, but for an enslaved person in the American South during the nineteenth century, being too learned is unsafe. Neffie must hide the true level of her intelligence from many people, including her white master. Likewise, physically budding into womanhood can be a trial but also a source of pride for a girl. Yet, Neffie’s blossoming body puts her at increasing risk of being raped by cruel men, particularly her master.
In line with this story’s irony are Neffie’s references to well-known “Southern hospitality” and “charm.” While white Southerners promote genteel hosting and manners among themselves, “There ain’t no such thing as ‘hospitality’ or charm when you’re a slave,” Neffie says. Nevertheless, the author does not depict all of the white characters as mean-spirited because they own enslaved people. Conversely, not all of the enslaved characters are faultless. In this way, the author sheds nuanced light on a complex subject.
Even so, some of the individual characters are rather one-dimensional and could have been more nuanced, especially the villains. Human beings are just as complex as their circumstances, if not more so. Hence, a glimpse or two of something curious or less than negative about the villains would have made their characters less like caricatures.
There are times when Neffie’s storytelling is redundant. Other times, I found the flow of events in her narration to be choppy and difficult to follow. The dialogue runs together sometimes without separate paragraphs to differentiate between the speakers. Though it may simply be her style of speech, Neffie constantly switches between past and present verb tenses. It can be hard to tell whether she is speaking of past events or if she is relaying them in real time, as they happen.
I considered that because these are her “chronicles,” Neffie might be writing about what has already taken place. However, there are usually differences between how a person speaks and how a person writes, even if the differences are minor. If Neffie is writing these events down, it seems unlikely that she would add apostrophes to many of her words, such as “sumthin’” and “nuthin’,” when the words are not a part of dialogue. All of the dialogue is italicized, and it seems unlikely that Neffie would write in italics. Moreover, there are grammatical errors and inconsistencies throughout the book, but it is unclear how much of that may be due to Neffie’s speech and flawed writing, if she is indeed the story’s writer and not only the narrator.
Some of the weaknesses and the want of clarity in this story may be an obstacle for readers. Yet, the heroine and her forthright narrative have a subtle power. Therefore, I give The Chronicles of Neffie a rating of 2 out of 4 stars. I’d recommend it to readers who would enjoy historical or literary fiction written in a highly colloquial style.
The Chronicles of Neffie
View: on Bookshelves | on Amazon | on iTunes | on Smashwords
Like NadineTimes10's review? Post a comment saying so!