Review by Camille Germain
I had forgotten how much I enjoyed historical fiction until I read Angela Jackson-Brown’s When Stars Rain Down. At the beginning of the story, we are introduced to our narrator and protagonist, Opal Pruitt. She is a 17-year-old on the cusp of adulthood, romance, and tragedy. The story begins slowly, with a look at the ordinary life of a black person living in rural Georgia in the 1930’s. Everything was normal in her neighborhood of Colored Town until the Ku Klux Klan terrorized Opal’s family and neighbors. This one night propels the story forward with no turning back. The consequences blend into the rest of the story naturally, and both expectedly and unexpectedly.
Angela Jackson-Brown developed the mundane, everyday life and narrative of Opal Pruitt perfectly, which makes us feel more connected to her when the traumatic events happen. Opal Pruitt is a quiet, shy, almost adult who everyone seems to underestimate. She is an honest character learning to listen to what she wants, but internally battling the pressures of who everyone around her wants her to be. By the internal monologue and the first person narration, we are able to see how fiery Opal is. We get to cheer her on and feel her battles with her. “I continued to walk, determined to get away from the sound of my family’s voices discussing me. This was a conversation that happened regularly. Everybody seemed to think they knew what was best for me, but seldom did anybody ever ask me what I wanted.”
Jackson-Brown has given us a story that is sincere. While reading it, it becomes obvious that she thought out every word meticulously and with solid research. She makes a story from the past feel as though the reader is there. She uses colloquial language in the narration and dialogue that feels natural for the story. It allows the reader to participate in that time of history.
From baseball to God-fearing folk, When Stars Rain Down makes a specific story resonate across generations. It taps into culture and history as though we are reading a memoir instead of a work of fiction. Jackson-Brown selected accurate icons and symbolic personalities and gave them a voice in dialogue and description.
This book made me smile, laugh, and cry. It made me feel connected to a character I would never know in real life. Jackson-Brown does this in the simplest ways: dialogue, setting, and voice. She made each character their own character. I could envision each person vividly and began to anticipate what they would say and do.
Jackson-Brown threaded minute bits of foreshadowing throughout the entire story which created anticipation as I read. I knew the climax would be a huge contrast to the rest of the story, but expected. I felt anticipation almost to the point of anxiety the entire time, waiting for the doom to take over the innocence of the protagonist. Despite her maturity, Opal is still naïve and is now being forced to quickly learn her truths. We can feel those painful challenges with her.
This is a book that needs to be read. It is a book that gives us a look into another time that still holds truth to today’s world. Angela Jackson-Brown is a true talent and delivers her vision in every word she writes. When Stars Rain Down is a historical fiction novel that feels like a real story.
*I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.