Leaving Atlanta

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Title: Leaving Atlanta
Author: Tayari Jones
Pages: 255
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (Hachette)
Pub. Date: August 21, 2002 (hardcover); April 2, 2009 (paperback)

Leaving Atlanta is a story that definitely left its mark on me. Even as I moved on to reading other books, I found my mind returning to the characters in this book, wondering about them as if they were real people I interacted with in my life. Maybe it's because the main characters were children, naive to the world, that I wanted to reach out and protect. Whatever the reason, I was thoroughly impressed with this novel, and probably even more so because of the depth of the story despite its simplicity.

Leaving Atlanta is told against the backdrop of the Atlanta child murders of 1979. This true event involved the kidnapping and murder of over twenty African American children in Atlanta, Georgia between 1979 and 1981. Childhood can be difficult enough, fitting in at school, trying to make friends, without having to worry that you'll be the next child snatched off the street and murdered. Yet, such was the reality for the children of fictional Oglethorpe Elementary. They were faced with trying to understand the frenzy their parents were placed in, worrying about their children coming straight home after school. Worrying about who the murderer could be. Told in three parts (each focusing on a different child), Jones worries less about a specific plot and more about bringing the reader into the mind and daily life of a child caught in this scary situation. And although the murders are the main thing on everyone's minds, the children are also learning about the world around them and dealing with issues such as race, poverty, abuse, peer groups, and bullying.

Jones's character development was superb. The writing was told from a child's perspective (first in third person, then in second, then in first) but didn't revert to childlike language. I thought it was such an astute manner of writing because other than the use of the child's language in dialogue, the only other "childish" part was the perception of the child. I was able to appreciate the writing while still feeling as though I was in the child's thoughts. I became so attached to the character of Tasha in the first part of the book that I was devastated when I realized the second part was told from the point of view of another character. But just like part one, I grew to care about the second and third characters immensely. The ending of the second part gave me chills. The significance of what life meant for that child, and the decision he makes... it's one I won't forget. I wish I knew someone else who read this just so I can discuss that one part!

Leaving Atlanta is a book about children and about the big bad world. Its quiet subtlety masks a surprising intensity that will leave you thinking about it for a long time after turning that last page.

Looking forward to reading more by this author!


Zibilee said...

Wow, Jen, this does sound like a fantastic book! The fact that it drew you in so personally really impresses me, and the plot also sounds outstanding. This was a wonderful and enticing review, and now I want to read this book! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it with us!

Audra said...

Wow, this sounds like a great, intense book. I know what you mean abt feeling sad/disappointed when a book's viewpoint changes from a beloved character, and that speaks to the author's talent. I've added this to my TBR -- thanks for the review.

Tina said...

Oh my gosh dont you love it when characters become like real people?!

You find the best books Jenny- Im going to have to read this one.

Sandy Nawrot said...

That was such a horrible time in Atlanta's history, but shouldn't be forgotten. I can't imagine what it would have been like to grow up during this scare. The fact that you keep thinking about the characters is a sign that the author did their job.

Michelle (Red Headed Book Child) said...

You write a powerful review but I don't think my heart or stomach could take it. I have a hard time reading about child abuse, murder, neglect, etc now that I am a mother. It's strange how immediate that was for me.

Melissa said...

I agree with Michelle, I don't think I could read it either even if it sounds great. I already fear constantly for my kids because of the kind of world we live in and the thought of projecting more I think will keep me up for days.

JP said...

This sounds great! I just ordered it from paperbackswap.com! Thanks for the review

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