. . . though the block had long ago made the transition from white to colored to Negro to Black Is Beautiful, the city still provided street cleaning . . . when the children took to the outside and there was the familiar smack, smack of the double-Dutch rope. The sound was a predictable comfort. Like the sounds of the Corner Boys, a mildly delinquent lot consumed with pilfering Kool cigarettes or the feel of a virgin girl's behind. . . .
As she did in her previous novels Tumbling and Blues Dancing, Diane McKinney-Whetstone once again masterfully renders time and place, character and emotional intensities. It is 1969 and Cecil Street is "feeling some kind of way," so the residents decide to have two block parties this year. These energetic, sensual street celebrations serve as backdrops to the stories of the people on the block. Joe, a long-ago sax player, has turned his eye across the street to a newly arrived young southern beauty even as he is suddenly haunted by memories of his horn-playing nights and his affection for a shy, soft hooker from years ago. Joe's wife, Louise, a licensed practical nurse, is losing her teeth to gum disease and her joy to sensing that Joe's attention has wandered. Their teenage daughter, Shay, is consumed with helping her best friend and next-door neighbor Neet, who has gotten pregnant by a Corner Boy. Neet's mother, Alberta, is shunned by the block because of her immersion in a religion that has no name. As the novel opens, the first block party has ended and a naked woman has secretly taken up residence in Joe and Louise's cellar.
McKinney-Whetstone's superb gift for language and storytelling, for crafting scenes that leave the reader breathless, for distilling complex human emotion in a well-turned phrase, is on full display here. She portrays the community and the times with precision and compassion in an unforgettable story that gets under the skin. As the novel builds to the second block party, the past becomes as immediate as the present, condemnable acts become righteous, and what is tragic is also filled with hope.