Published by Penguin Press
Publication date: June 30th 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Cultural, Debut, Fiction
It’s time for summer vacation but rather than spend it at home in Brooklyn Dionne and her sister Phaedra have been shipped off to Barbados, which may sound like paradise to many of us, but not for Dionne. At sixteen this was going to be the summer she broke out of childhood and into the fun life of leading the cool group of girls at her school. Instead, she is stuck with her grandmother and baby sister in the small town of Bird Hill. The Star Side of Bird Hill is Naomi Jackson’s debut novel about how even when it seems like nothing is changing anything can happen.
The girls have been sent to their grandmother, Hyacinth, because their mother can’t care for them anymore. While it is a relief to be away from her erratic and sometimes frightening behavior, Hyacinth’s old-school ways cause Dionne to launch into a full-scale rebellion in an effort to prove her independence. As Jackson puts it she is “… sixteen going on a bitter, if beautiful forty-five.” Hyacinth’s scrutiny means the summer can’t end fast enough for Dionne, but for ten-year-old Phaedra life in Barbados is a fascinating chance to learn about her grandmother, a midwife and practitioner of obeah, an African religious practice. At the same time, she’s trying to understand what growing up is all about. She is bright, smart, and independent but still hoping she can fit in and hurt when she does not. Her journey is the one that tugs as she starts growing into herself. Unlike her sister, she comes to see that she can manipulate people, not for her own gain, but in ways that make them happy.
Barbados easily conjures thoughts of idyllic beauty but Jackson looks beyond the eye candy to real life. She is one of those special authors who moves words around in unexpected ways to perfectly describe something mundane, seen a million times. She shows the same gift for tone, dancing between Dionne’s bored and sullen mutterings to Hyacinth’s folksy and humorous wisdom without missing a step. These are three females at three very different stages of life but Jackson renders the essence of each beautifully. The Star Side of Bird Hill is not a novel that will stomp on your heart or mess with your mind but it doesn’t need to be because Hyacinth, Dionne, and Phaedra are enduring and endearing characters, brought to life as brightly as sunshine sparkling off island waters.