Author Shay Youngblood weaves a magical tale of a young woman searching for a home in A Black Girl in Paris. The second release by this well-known New York playwright, A Black Girl in Paris is a great follow-up to her stellar debut novel, Soul Kiss.
A Black Girl in Paris explores finding a voice and a home through international travel in the way that great African-American artists did in the early 20th century.
This lyrical novel establishes rapport with its readers by describing the way Josephine danced across the stage hidden by bananas, or the way James ripped out a book that could ignite flames in your soul. The book is a well-thought-out vacation to another country to discover what it means to be alive.
Eden, the lead character who seeks to escape her mind more than anything else, heads to Paris after the death of her father. Through fantasy escapes choreographed as day dreaming, the reader learns that Eden is an orphan, and both of her parents are orphans. The parents find each other through church and, because they never have children of their own, adopt Eden. She is informed of her orphan status at age 4. Her family, which is comprised of her adopted parents and her bawdy Aunt Victoria, is supportive of her in ways that build a relationship and background for her that she never would have had otherwise.
Aiding in this task is the creation of a quilt using the Singer sewing machine that Eden’s adoptive mother says was left with her on the doorstep. That’s her story, and she’s sticking to it. And she makes up all sorts of other stories about her life based on this sewing machine and her adventures. The quilt is made of pieces of the three family members’ clothing and locks of their hair sewn in. It’s clear that Eden’s mother, Delphine, is settled down and wants Eden to have a sense of family of her own.
But good old Aunt Vic instills a desire for things different, wild things, in Eden by repeatedly discussing Paris and dressing Eden in fabulous outfits and having her perform. Eden’s departure for Paris will be a decision she makes after her father dies-with the support of Aunt Vic and the indifference of her grieving mother.
Though supported and loved, Eden sets out in search of … well, the reader never quite knows. Seemingly, she’s looking for herself. She cuts off her hair and sells everything she owns. On the way, she meets new people and discovers more about herself, letting herself be the map that her story is written on.
A Black Girl in Paris is what traditionally would be called a “coming-of-age” story. It possesses no great enlightenment but reads like a dance for any reader wants to join in and traipse through the fanciful mind and adventures of Eden.