You know when you read a book excerpt, or the cover, and just the thought of what the book is about hits you hard? Well, that was the case for us with MALCOLM & ME by Robin Farmer. And since we’re all living in the year of our Lord 2020, the year that will never end and will never let us get out of our houses, well, more book recommendations is always a good thing.
So today, we’re bringing you an excerpt from the book, to get you as excited as we are!
First, though, here’s the book synopsis:
Philly native Roberta Forest is a precocious rebel with the soul of a poet. The thirteen-year-old is young, gifted, black, and Catholic—although she’s uncertain about the Catholic part after she calls Thomas Jefferson a hypocrite for enslaving people and her nun responds with a racist insult. Their ensuing fight makes Roberta question God and the important adults in her life, all of whom seem to see truth as gray when Roberta believes it’s black or white.
An upcoming essay contest, writing poetry, and reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X all help Roberta cope with the various difficulties she’s experiencing in her life, including her parent’s troubled marriage. But when she’s told she’s ineligible to compete in the school’s essay contest, her explosive reaction to the news leads to a confrontation with her mother, who shares some family truths Roberta isn’t ready for.
Set against the backdrop of Watergate and the post-civil rights movement era, Angel Dressed in Black is a gritty yet graceful examination of the anguish teens experience when their growing awareness of themselves and the world around them unravels their sense of security—a coming-of-age tale of truth-telling, faith, family, forgiveness, and social activism.
And here’s the excerpt:
In the empty stairwell, dizziness gets the best of me. It’s my thirteenth birthday and I just fed my homeroom nun two knuckle sandwiches. No doubt, I now have a reserved seat on an express train to hell. I cannot imagine the number of Hail Marys needed to out of this.
I feel like a let-go balloon. Loose, unsafe, ready to pop. Wait, haven’t I popped already?
My parents didn’t raise me to act like a juvenile delinquent. It’s just that no one, not even my “girl, don’t play with me” mother, had ever tried to slap the Black off my face before. Or, looked at me as if I were a roach in need of a big shoe.
I step out into heavy rain and covered my Afro with my book bag. Mind elsewhere, I step into a puddle. I fight the urge to scream F bombs in the schoolyard.
With soggy shoes, I move to the school’s oldest structure, a gray stone building housing grades first through fifth and the main office. The yard separates the primary school from our church, which I’m tempted to bum rush to beg God to end this nightmare. But clearly I’m wide awake with wet toes, a stinging cheek, and an Afro shrinking from the humidity.
Rain hits my face sideways as I peer up at the glistening twin gold crosses. Help me.
I step into the primary school and linger outside the main office. Making the sign of the cross, I pray for Mother Superior to listen to my side.
I approach the counter. The office aide sizes me up. Her eyes dart over my empty hands, a sign I’m not here on an errand.
“Another one. Must be a full moon.” Her disgust flattens her mouth.
“Sister Elizabeth . . . threw me out. My name is Roberta Forest.”
She sniffs like I had forgotten my deodorant. Someone sure smells funky, but not me. She writes my name on a list. I plunk myself next to other student sinners awaiting their fate.
Fear bubbles in my throat. I calm myself by picturing the pink princess phone waiting in my bedroom. The idea of talking for hours almost makes me smile.
No telling what extra goody would be waiting for me from Daddy. He had already left for the trolley depot by the time I sniffed peppery scrapple frying and ran downstairs before my little brother, Charles, ate the crusty bits I crave. Mom said he left early so he’d be home for my birthday.
Now my birthday is ruined.
What happens to a nun puncher? Suspension or expulsion? I bow my head and squeeze my eyes shut, hoping God and I remain on speaking terms. There’s only one way to find out:
Me: Dear God, Almighty Father, our Lord, sweet Jesus, I am so sorry! You know I did not mean for any of this to happen. Save me, please!
God: I know, my child. I will make it all go away.
Me: In time for my birthday party? It’s only a few hours away. Bonnie is coming over. Fix it, please!I’ll go to church every Sunday, and I’ll be on time.Promise!
God: Stop pushing your luck. You struck a holy woman. You must suffer the consequences. I will save you from being suspended and expelled, and allow you to get your birthday gifts. Say ten Hail Marys, apologize for your transgressions, and really mean it.
Me: Thank you, God.
Opening my eyes, the bright lights in the office of doom make me blink. Hope that filled me seconds ago gushes out like air escaping a punctured tire. God knows what I feel. It’s the fiery knot of anger that balled up my fist. Something burns in my chest, too. I am furious at Sister for hurting me in places I cannot see. I seesaw between anger and guilt.
It doesn’t help that in the hour it takes Mom to arrive, I freak myself out from all of the punishments I imagine await me if I’m expelled.
When Mom appears in the doorway, her mouth is a thin line. Someone is about to get a verbal beat-down. I hope it’s not me.
“Come out in the hallway, Roberta,” Mom demands, holding the door open.
The aide, typing with her back to us, turns around. “She can’t leave until Mother Superior sees her.” Her tone is appropriate for a student or clueless sub, not for my mother.
Mom arches an eyebrow and tilts her head as if she misheard. “I don’t need anyone’s permission to speak with my daughter. I am Dora Forest and you are . . .?”
The aide pushes her glasses up. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know she’s your daughter.”
No headline news there. My caramel complexion, super thick hair and full lips have nothing in common with Mom’s sharp features, ivory skin, and wavy, sandy hair. People are often surprised to learn she is Black. She’s quick to set them straight.
I shuffle into the hallway and widen my eyes to look innocent.
“What the Sam Hill is going on? I take off to get your phone connected, and you’re up here acting like a fool. Boxing nuns?” She throws her hands up. “You know I had to fight to get you and your brother in here. Now, you may get expelled! Then what? You’re not setting foot in any public school with those gangs, fights, and fast girls. We’ll ship your butt down South.”
My Uncle Wayne’s tired, dusty farm? What?
“Sister is prejudiced. She told me to go back to Africa! Then slapped me three times.” My voice gets tangled in the web of hurt lining my throat. “I defended myself.”
“She said what?” Mom leans in to hear better.
I share the ordeal with Mom, whose stony expression crumbles with every word.
The aide pokes her head out into the hall, motions that the principal is ready.
Excerpted with permission from Malcolm and Me by Robin Farmer. © 2020 by Robin Famer. SparkPress, a BookSparks imprint, a division of SparkPoint Studio, LLC.
MALCOLM & ME is available now! Pick up your copy HERE.