As book lovers, we often laud the ability of books to help us think about people in new ways, to walk a mile in their shoes via fiction, to gain access to understanding lives and circumstances and feelings that are different than our own. This is something I love about books and yet...I still feel some resistance to picking up books about life experience that are different from my own and Virgin Soul was a reminder of why. While some books seem to effortlessly transcend our differences, others require a great deal of work on the part of the reader to get it.
Which isn't to say that it's not worth it, it's just work. When I first started reading Virgin Soul I found the setting really appealing and I was really interested in the topic as well. And the setting is really different to anything else I've read because it's set in Oakland during the 60s. I'm interested in stories about race and how it's a part of identity and how people react differently to it. I've heard lots of stories about Martin Luther King, Jr. but less about the Black Panthers you know? It's the sort of thing I sort of know vaguely about in history but need a really good book to make come alive for me. It's terrible that this is how I learn history, but it's the truth.
And Virgin Soul was not quite that book. Which isn't to say it doesn't have its merits. It's an interesting coming of age tale about a young black woman growing up in Oakland and how much she wants to succeed. It chronicles her different struggles, how her first boyfriend got her thinking more about race and revolution, how she joined the Black Panthers, the differences in how the different generations saw the struggle, etc.
I just...I found the book odd in some ways, like Geniece's first time is described full awkward detail. And there were some times I felt that I got what I was supposed to be getting but the transition to those places was rough. Like when she started to see the kids she was working with as a great mission than her revolutionary activities. I was told all these things, but I guess...I guess I never really felt like I was fully invited on the journey in an emotional way. Geniece's voice felt very matter of fact and in some ways detached from her own experiences. I think this is ultimately what didn't work for me in this novel.
But..the setting is still really rich and I think she makes a fair case for how she got involved with the Black Panthers and how those activities were very specific to a certain stage of her life. I loved how everyone thought the Californian's were crazy, because that still hasn't changed. And I liked the idea of the book, I just wish I had loved it more.
Even so if you have any interest in this era you'll want to check this out.
Things You Might Want to Know: Explicit awkward sex
Source of Book: Received from publisher for review
Publisher: Viking (Penguin)