Francie Coffin is the first-person narrator of her novel, and the most interesting character in it. On one hand, she is like any twelve-or thirteen-year-old girl, full of dreams, curiosity, and misinformation. She spends a lot of time thinking about boys and resisting sexual advances (from adults as well as from boys) and learning with her girlfriends, Sukie and Maude, about the outside world. (Sukie’s sister China Doll, for example, is a prostitute who is friendly to the girls; Francie, though, observes her beaten up by her pimp, whom China Doll will kill by the end of the novel.) She watches as a neighborhood friend throws his grandmother’s cat off the tenement roof; later, a man tries to rape her in the apartment’s dim hallway.
Francie is bright, enterprising, and a survivor: She knows how to hide her father’s numbers receipts so that the police cannot find them when they search the Coffins’ apartment. She sells grocery bags to shoppers who frequent an open Harlem market in order to earn spending money.
In the end, she has achieved her initiation: She has had her first menstrual period, and she has survived all the sexual abuse around her. More important for her emotional growth, she kisses her mother’s cheek in church one morning, thus symbolically forgiving her weaknesses, and she challenges her father for his. She has become a young adult.
Many of her best qualities actually come from her parents, who are loving...
(The entire section is 508 words.)