Train­ing School for Ne­gro Girls

Camille Acker

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction -

The Fem­i­nist Press at CUNY (OC­TO­BER) Soft­cover $17.95 (248pp), 978-1-936932-37-5

The ex­pe­ri­ences and dis­qui­et­ing re­al­iza­tions of black women come through Train­ing School for Ne­gro Girls, in which Wash­ing­ton, DC, and its sur­round­ings are treated with ten­sion and ten­der­ness.

Span­ning girl­hood to adult­hood, these sto­ries con­sider as­pects of be­long­ing. Char­ac­ters’ pri­vate fears high­light the di­vide be­tween what they say and what they feel. Dan­ger cir­cles in sub­tle, orig­i­nal ways. As women un­tan­gle webs of de­sire, in­grained be­liefs, history, and chang­ing bound­aries, their senses of self take cen­ter stage.

In “Ropes,” a teacher bris­tles at her stu­dent from a rougher neigh­bor­hood, only to con­front the lim­its of her own tol­er­ance when she makes a snap de­ci­sion that could al­ter the girl’s life. In “Mambo Sauce,” a sculp­tor with a white boyfriend tries to save a lo­cal fried chicken restau­rant, only to learn that her ges­ture is an un­wel­come dis­play of her own as­sump­tions. Code-switch­ing leads to emo­tional be­trayal, leav­ing the nar­ra­tor adrift. In “Train­ing School for Ne­gro Girls,” an as­pir­ing so­cialite faces col­orism and blame for an in­ci­dent she didn’t in­vite.

Be­neath larger themes on gen­tri­fi­ca­tion and race, these sto­ries pulse with vi­tal­ity as or­di­nary peo­ple look for a fu­ture in a world that doesn’t ex­pect them to have one. Frus­tra­tion takes var­ied forms—in a col­lege ap­pli­cant who is des­per­ate to es­cape her peers; in a TSA agent whose mis­take in­spires oth­ers to worsen the mo­ment with a lie. When a joy­ous out­come does hap­pen, such as win­ning a pi­ano com­pe­ti­tion, it’s tainted by an­other girl’s be­hav­ior.

De­spair doesn’t take over. In­stead, cal­i­brated de­feats build to­ward end­ings that linger. Amid dark­en­ing sce­nar­ios, love still seeps through: in an ag­ing mother’s ad­vice, in a fa­ther who drives through the city while lec­tur­ing his daugh­ter, in a younger sis­ter who watches her brother break­ing.

A strik­ing cross-sec­tion view of the cap­i­tal’s cor­ners, these sto­ries con­tain, and some­times re­strain, hope; in fleet­ing glimpses, they also re­veal the be­gin­ning of a way out. KAREN RIGBY

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