Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Review: Beginning with Cannonballs by Jill McCroskey Coupe

Friendship is a curious thing. It can last a season or a lifetime or any stretch of time in between. It can be buffeted by winds that the friends don't even notice or it can be caught up in a storm that they can hardly ignore. Perhaps this is no more true than inside an interracial friendship during the era of the Civil Rights Movement. Some friendships can survive outside forces while others will not. Jill McCroskey Coupe has written a beautiful paean to a lifelong friendship that starts in innocence, suffers, and is refound again despite the forces that try so hard to break it in her novel, Beginning with Cannonballs.

It's the 1950s and babies Gail and Hanna share a crib, the closest of friends from the beginning. Hanna's mother Sophie is Gail's family's maid. Gail is white and Hanna is black. As young girls, they don't see any complication in this fact, only questioning the world on rare occasions, but their mothers certainly foresee problems, especially as the girls grow older. They remain devoted friends despite the pressures beyond them until Hanna moves to Philadelphia with her mother and the girls lose touch thanks to the interference of Gail's mother Bessie. But Gail never forgets her first and best friend, reaching out and trying to rekindle their once close relationship without understanding all of the forces at work in and against Hanna. Their differences magnified, and their lives so very different, these two women come back together tentatively, testing the power and forgiveness of friendship.

Coupe takes that most precious friendship of a childhood, that touchstone, and complicates it with race and distance and family disapproval. She delicately describes a friendship that has no choice but to be impacted by the outside world, a friendship that would once have been quietly let go forever but that is too much a friendship of the heart, too valuable and important, to let fade away. There are short jumps in time between the chapters, allowing Gail and Hanna to grow and change, to be molded both by national and personal events in the intervening time, and the story itself spans from the 50s to the 90s. Coupe has done a great job capturing the innocence of the young girls, the dawning of understanding and push back in the young women, and the acceptance and forthrightness (with a touch of rebellion) in the middle-aged women. The writing is accessible and warm and the characters are fully fleshed out and real. This book is a kaleidoscope of snapshots in a specific time of a real and beautiful friendship with all of the attendant ups and downs, hurts and joys, of any long standing relationship between two people still adapting and growing and learning, in all of their flawed, human glory.

Thanks to Caitlin Hamilton Marketing and Publicity for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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