Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are blissfully in love and excited for the future. He’s a young executive and she is an artist ready to start a career. Until one day they are forced apart by circumstances neither of them could have ever imagined. Roy is imprisoned for twelve years for a crime that Celestial knows he didn’t commit.
Heartbroken and devastated, Celestial finds herself struggling and turns to their closest friend Andre.
All three friends are tested by forces beyond their control, which will inevitably change their relationships forever.
This is the first time I’ll be talking about a book, a black book for that matter, that I didn’t actually love.
It was okay…
I want to make something clear quickly. Everyone’s taste is different. Just because I may not like something, you could love it. I still feel like this is a book that should be read because of it’s explorations into love, marriage and the unfairness of the US judicial system.
When I first picked up this book, I was excited. It had been read by Oprah’s Book Club and I had even seen that Barack Obama had commented on it. I was ready to be blown away.
Don’t get me wrong, I thought the plot was beautiful. A great story that kept me hooked in terms of what happens next. I loved the different writing styles, especially the epistolary style.
*Epistolary – (a piece of literature work) in the format of letters
I’m glad the whole novel wasn’t epistolary, though. I think it was cute here and there but I would have hated if it was the entire thing.
I will say, I would have preferred if the ending wasn’t epistolary but I guess it worked.
Now, it’s not often that I find characters completely and utterly irritating. Normally, I get over it since it’s only a novel. Mostly fictional. It doesn’t bother me
But Celestial was one of the most frustrating characters I had ever read.
What annoyed me so much about her was that she refused to take accountability for anything. She just seemed so…bland and passive about everything that was going on. I got annoyed at how she handled everything with Roy.
Roy who was in one of the hardest situations ever. Sentenced to 12 years in prison for a crime, he didn’t commit.
They had just got married. They had plans…dreams…they wished to be parents soon. They had careers ahead of them.
And just like that it was snatched away.
I can’t even begin to imagine the devastation in that moment. What do you even do? What can you do…but hope and pray that the decision is overturned…that he’s let out early for good behaviour. Because your life has barely started.
And for Celestial, in all honesty, it hadn’t really.
I could imagine how she felt, but I still couldn’t get past her lack of accountability.
Roy was such a supporting husband, even with his circumstances…he tried to be there for her in the best way he could.
But for Celestial, it wasn’t enough.
I’d much rather she owned it. But for some reason, Tayari Jones decided to make it seem like Celestial wanted to be viewed as a victim too. She was a coward, in most aspects.
She was a victim in a weird sense.
But she made it seem like Roy was a burden to her. And that’s what I got frustrated about.
Anyways, if I start on Andre, I’m not sure I’ll be able to finish. He was probably the biggest coward of them all.
But in terms of marriage, it raised the important question of whether love is enough. Whether love can withstand time and distance?
I think the fairytales make you want to believe that it can.
But this book depicts a different message.
The unfairness of life can sometimes get in the way of love.
I’m not sure if I agree with it in all honesty. I can see where it comes from and why. But I don’t necessary believe it to be true. If I’m being honest, I genuinely just thought Celestial was too selfish.
But I think what Tayari Jones was really trying to highlight is that when two people are married, what one person goes through really affects the other. So when a black man is convicted wrongfully, not only has he become a victim of an unjust Judicial System but his wife also suffers because of it.
And unfortunately, in the US, this isn’t just a one off case.
According to Psychologists Hetey and Eberhardt in their essay: ‘The Numbers Don’t Speak for Themselves: Racial Disparities and The Persistence of Inequality in the Criminal Justice System’, they state that:
“Though only 13% of the US population, African-Americans make up nearly 40% of the nation’s inmates.”
So you can only imagine how many more husbands and wives are suffering because of this unjust system.
Even though the characters let the book down in some aspects. The plot…is spectacular because Jones is really trying to emphasise the issues with the judicial system and how that affects the black population in and out of prison. And not just physically being apart from each other, but also mentally and emotionally.
That in itself should make you want to read it.
Also by the author:
The next bit of discussion will be a bit of a spoiler of the book – if you don’t want to know what happens, please don’t read on…
If you don’t mind, then go ahead.
There’s something I didn’t notice until the very end.
The woman who accused Roy of rape wasn’t actually described….
Tayari Jones never specified whether she was white or black.
But I made the assumption…as most people probably did…that she was white.
There’s so many reasons as to why I made this assumption. But what I will say is that Jones did it deliberately and for a reason.
Do you know how flawed the judicial system must be if that was our first assumption?
The woman wasn’t even sure that it was Roy that did it. She just remembered him as the last person she had contact with before the incident…
Nevertheless, this whole concept that something this unfair could only happen if the victim is white, only proves that the judicial system in the US favours white Americans.
Which comes as no surprise.
But it also highlights that we’ve been conditioned to accept it…especially, if our first assumption is that the woman was white. I’m not sure about you but when I read about Roy’s conviction, my first thought was ‘this is so unfair’ and my second thought was ‘that’s life.”
But ‘that’s life for black Americans.’
Then I started thinking but what if the woman was black…
Do we still believe the system is flawed? Do we still blame the victim? Are we more inclined to believe her or disagree with her? I found myself trying to see it from her point of view.
I even said to myself maybe she’s just confused.
It’s a brilliant question that changes your whole perception of the novel. You tend to look at it in different ways.
Does your view of the situation change depending on the colour of the victim?
And what does that say about society?