The novel contains an interesting mixture of fictional and historical figures. Because it is Willie’s story on a primary level, the changes in other characters, as well as in Willie herself, are filtered through the point of view of an adolescent. Davis captures the concerns and values of a twelve-year-old by interweaving the social and political issues of the time with popular culture. The music motif permeates the novel, beginning with the reference to Billie Holiday and sustained by references to jazz, rhythm and blues, and Willie’s disdain for Pat Boone. The predominant music of the white culture seems empty to Willie, yet he songs of Billie Holiday are beyond her comprehension. The Willie Tarrant of the beginning of the novel does not have the life experience to appreciate the rich, painfully poignant music of Lady Day. The adult Willie Tarrant does. Willie’s fascination with such figures as Papa Doc Duvalier and Fidel Castro is augmented by youthful romanticism. For example, she compares Castro to Dwight D. Eisenhower, finding Eisenhower wanting and Castro a Cuban version of Marlon Brando.
Much of the Tarrants’ familial history is embellished by the creative Willie, especially the episodes dealing with Aunt Fannie and Gambia. Willie’s romanticizing of her ancestors is her way of creating the strong, positive female role models she believes that her life is lacking, initially not realizing that the authoritative Mrs. Taliaferro and her...
(The entire section is 514 words.)