Wednesday, September 21, 2011

[Book Review] MAMA RUBY by Mary Monroe

Fiction/African American

Darletha reviews MAMA RUBY by Mary Monroe (Kensington, 2011)

Ruby Upshaw is the seventh daughter of a preacher who resides in Shreveport, Louisiana in the mid-1930s. Ruby’s parents think she is an obedient, upright child, but like her six older sisters, Ruby has been leading a double life since she was eight years old. By the time she is fifteen, she will have enough street smarts to do whatever it takes to survive.

Ruby lives in a racially-segregated town, but she isn’t afraid of anybody. As a plus-sized girl with a tough demeanor and pocket knife for protection, people are afraid of her! Ruby becomes best friends with Othella, the daughter of a well-known prostitute. Despite her father’s warnings to stay away from “fast” girls, Ruby sneaks out of the house regularly to party at Othella’s house and fool around with several boys.

Ruby’s promiscuity leads to the secret birth of a child she is forced to give away. In subsequent years, Ruby and Othella relocate to New Orleans in hopes of finding good husbands, but what they actually encounter are a series of bad situations involving prostitution and violence. Ruby lives a difficult life that will transform her into a bitter, vengeful woman with a score to settle.

This novel is the prequel to Monroe’s debut novel, The Upper Room, which continues the Ruby/Othella story. What stood out to me the most were Ruby’s endless misfortunes, which I might better understand when I read The Upper Room. Readers who love plenty of drama and a candid writing style will enjoy this book. There are many, many shocking moments, so there is plenty to talk about with friends or in a book club setting. As a bonus, the hardback version contains discussion questions and brief interview with Monroe.

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