Book Review: Leaving Atlanta

Leaving Atlanta tells the story of classmates Tasha Baxter, Rodney Green and Octavia Harrison during their fifth-grade year at Oglethorpe Elementary in Atlanta.

Might nothing.  Think about it.  You ain’t never heard of nobody black going around killing people for no reason.  That’s white people’s shit.

Tasha is eager to return to school to show off her jump rope skills after practicing all summer to perfect her moves.  If she can perfect her foot work then she may gain a spot in the clique of Monica and Forsythia.  However, those dreams come to a halt when she finds out that jumping rope in fifth-grade is “baby stuff” according to Monica.   As the girls graduate from jumping rope to playing jacks, Tasha shows off her skills and puts a whipping on Monica.  That doesn’t help her chances of gaining access to the in-crowd but it does cause her to question the state of her family.

You now know, as undeniably as if you had read it in the World Book Encyclopedia, that Officer Brown has nothing useful to share.  As a matter of fact, you are more fearful than ever to know that this man is all that stands between your generation and an early death.

Rodney is a loner who has little to say but his thoughts are priceless.  He spends his days trying to make himself invisible as he comes to grips with the fact that he’ll never please his father.   If only “an epidemic of disappearing black fathers” hit his home like so many of his friends everything would be okay.  Instead his dad appears at the school after Rodney falls asleep at recess and misses lunch.  After being humiliated in front of his peers he is convinced that any place is better than home.

Kodak commercials say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but the one they showed of ____ ain’t worth more than three or four.  ____. Black. Dead.

Octavia, another outcast, is affectionately called “Sweet Pea” by her single mom but is ostracized for her dark skin and is teasingly called “Watusi” by her classmates.   Unlike her “almost friend” Rodney who tries to make himself invisible, Octavia has a good aim and will fight back with words and rocks.  But when two people she knows goes missing she is forced to deal with the consequences.

Leaving Atlanta is one of the few stories that make you start your sentence with, “Girl let me tell you about this book…”  when asked how you like it.

This novel is a fictional story set in Atlanta during one of Atlanta’s America’s darkest hours, Atlanta’s Child Murders.  During the years of 1979-1982, twenty-nine children went missing and some were found dead.

Born  in 1978, I’m too young to remember these events but author Tayari Jones delivers a first hand account from the third person narrative of Tasha, the second person narrative of Rodney and a first person account by Octavia.   Each of the fifth-graders tell the story from their own unbiased point-of-view.

As I read the book I felt like I was in Atlanta during these events.  The feelings that resonated from the characters were feelings I could remember having as a child.  I found myself thinking on many occasions, “Tayari had to have really dug deep in her past to nail these childlike characteristics.”

I also wondered if writing this book had affected her mental state since two of her classmates were among the twenty-nine missing.

I’m not sure I could have told this story but Tayari did and it was done with a style that is  to be envied.  Her descriptive words and language never failed to paint a picture or conjure feelings of my childhood.

What I loved most about this book was that it didn’t talk so much about the Atlanta Child Murders but focused more on how the community reacted to it, especially the children.  I couldn’t imagine having to walk home from school with a serial killer on the loose.

This novel is broken into three parts with a three, two, one punch that hits you hard below the belt.  Initially you would think that the three different perspectives would be ill-fitting but they all meshed together to tell a wonderful story about an unfortunate time in our history.

Leaving Atlanta will soon be in theaters.  Check out Nakia’s post, Leaving Atlanta at the Movies for more information on the project and a sneak peek trailer.

You can also find me at www.notoriousspinks.com.

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3 responses to “Book Review: Leaving Atlanta

  1. This is on ym to-read list, I am looking forward to reading it! And I am uber-excited about the whole movie project.

  2. Can’t wait for the movie.

  3. Pingback: Mailbox Monday (April 11)

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