At the center of Joanne Hyppolite's novel for young adults, Seth and Samona, is the idea of having faith in human beings, of accepting differences and hoping for the best from others. The novel is narrated by Seth Michelin, an eleven-year-old boy whose family has immigrated from Haiti to Boston, Massachusetts. Seth's parents, grandmother, and numerous aunts and uncles still follow many of the cultural practices that they followed in the old country, while Seth and his brother and sister are faced with blending their cultural tradition into the world where they live now. Samona Gemini is Seth's classmate and his closest friend, even though he goes out of his way to pretend that he is embarrassed by her. Like Seth, Samona does not exactly fit into the social atmosphere of their fifth grade class. While Seth is quiet and withdrawn, Samona is loud and outgoing, given to lying, bragging, and drawing attention to herself. Seth repeatedly calls Samona "crazy'' and he pretends to pity her because she will never have friends until she acts "normal." Still, it is obvious from the way he acts toward her that, despite what he says, he admires her for the freedom that he lacks. Seth and Samona was the winner of the second annual Marguarite de Angeli Prize, and has won critical and popular acclaim for Hyppolite.
Mrs. Fabiyi's House
This book is about the begrudging friendship between the narrator, Seth Michelin, who lives in Dorchester area of Boston, and a schoolmate of his, Samona Gemini. They are both eleven years old and in fifth grade. Seth's family is from Haiti, and Samona's mother, who is raising the children by herself, is a poet and an undercover reporter for a disreputable magazine. After a short background about how they met two years earlier, the first of their adventures begins. It happened, as Seth's narration explains, ‘‘last Wednesday,’’ when Samona raced up to him on the sidewalk, insisting that he accompany her to Mrs. Fabiyi's house. Mrs. Fabiyi is a strange neighborhood lady from Nigeria who threw cold soup on them the previous Halloween. She has not be around for more than a week, and Samona says they should go and see if she is ill, although when pressed she explains that her real reason for wanting to go is because her cat has gone over there and she wants to make sure it is all right. To get Seth to go, she reminds him that Mrs. Fabiyi's house is a mystery to all of the children at school, and entering it would make them ‘‘the coolest kids in the fifth grade.’’
They take food to Mrs. Fabiyi, but at first they find her house empty. As they are walking down a dim, deserted corridor, a panel opens in the wall and the weird old woman comes out waving a piece of wood at them. Samona explains that they brought the food for her, in case she was sick, and Mrs. Fabiyi thinks this is funny. She was just away visiting her sister in Nigeria, she explains. She threw cold soup on them on Halloween as part of the Trick or Treat fun. She invites them in and they see her house decorated with African art and find the cat playing with Mrs. Fabiyi's cat. At the end of the second chapter, Samona stuns Seth by announcing that she is going to participate in the Little Miss Dorchester pageant.
Returning home from Mrs. Fabiyi's house, Seth encounters the strange sight of several of his aunts and uncles gathered in his parents' living room, with the lights dim and the curtains drawn. One aunt who never drinks is drinking, an uncle who always laughs is not laughing, and an aunt who always prays is praying. Seth feels panicky before they tell him that his grandmother's sister, Matant Margaret, has died. She is a distant relative who lived in a nursing home, and Seth hardly knew her. His older brother and sister, Jean-Claude and Chantal, go about their normal lives—especially Chantal, who talks on the phone with her boyfriend Jerome and is disappointed because she will have to miss a date with him because of the wake. Still, Seth's grandmother is so overcome with sorrow that she takes to her bed. Seth does not know what to make of all of this sorrow, and he does not know what a wake is, only that he will miss school later in the week to attend one.
The next day Samona tells Seth and his younger cousin Enrie that her brothers had been to a wake for her aunt Delia the year before. When Seth points out that Aunt Delia is still alive, she explains that it is because the wake was successful, that the mourners prayed so hard that Aunt Delia rose up from the dead. Seth does not accept...
(The entire section is 1330 words.)