Book Review: Imani All Mine by Connie Porter

imani-all-mine

Rating: A-/ Wow. This is one heartbreaking story. If you want to read this book but have doubts because the subject matter might be too hard to cope with, be forewarned, it only goes downhill from here. There’s so much pain in Imani All Mine, to the point where the moments of hope and redemption hardly seem worth mentioning. I knew that this was a dark book, but I didn’t see the tearjerker of an ending coming, it blindsided me. I think this book is a work of art. It combines dialect with lyricism to powerful effect, without feeling false or untrue to the character’s voice and education level.

The book’s narrator, Tasha, is a fifteen-year-old girl juggling school and her infant daughter. The child, Imani, is the product of a rape, but Tasha chooses to let her mother think she’s a ‘slut’ and a ‘whore’ over telling her about the assault. Even though the rape haunts her, Tasha carries her baby to term and decides not to report the boy who did it, continuing to go to school and live her life as though nothing happened. Tasha loves Imani fiercely, though the strain of being a teenage mother who’s little more than a child herself weighs on her.

Tasha lives in a ghetto in New York State and she is surrounded by crack dealers, addicts, and gang bangers. She starts dating for the first time in her life and is heckled by a no-good neighboring drug dealer who’s equally no-good mama is a permanent fixture in Tasha and her mother’s home. Like many teenage girls, Tasha feels self-conscious about her physical appearance and although her new boyfriend gives her a temporary feeling of worth, she would be the first to admit she doesn’t love him, and she is pretty sure the feeling’s mutual.

    Imani All Mine is both beautifully written and terribly sad, and the author puts a lot of interesting detail into the setting and the characters, making it feel like you can see the events in the novel unfold. Tasha is a utterly believable lead, and Porter isn’t afraid to make her painfully flawed while still ensuring that the reader feels for her throughout the story. The characters are surprisingly three-dimensional, even the ones that could have easily been cardboard cut-outs. Their backstories and personalities ring true.

I liked the way the white guy that Tasha’s mom was dating turned out to be an all-around decent human being, because it was unpredictable. I also liked how the book showed reverse racism in the form of Tasha being upset that her mom was dating a white man, and how he ended up surprising her. I was moved by the way Tasha loved her child unconditionally, but the book allowed her to be a flawed mother sometimes. I often say that when a person becomes a parent, they take a step up or a step down from how their parents treated them, and either learn from their parents’ mistakes or become even worse.

I think that Tasha, despite the fact that she was only fifteen, was a better mother to Imani than her mother ever was to her. You just want to shake Tasha’s mother sometimes because of the way she treats her daughter, but she’s multi-faceted as well and you can’t be but so mad at her. She was a child too when she had Tasha, and I’m sure she didn’t want this life for her daughter. The way she reacts to Tasha becoming pregnant is hypocrisy at it’s finest, but it’s still entirely believable in the context of the situation. It is revealed later in the book that Tasha’s mother is almost entirely illiterate, possibly dyslexic, and all she wanted was for her daughter to graduate and succeed in life and not be like her.

I won’t reveal the ending, but suffice to say it was a punch in the gut. The only thing I didn’t like about this book was the overt Christian themes and portrayal of Christianity as a solution to seemingly insurmountable problems. Of course, as an atheist, that’s just a personal issue on my part. It doesn’t make the book ‘bad,’ it doesn’t even make that aspect of the book ‘bad,’ and I think the themes involving Christ and redemption will speak to a lot of people. I found the scenes in the black church where Tasha finds Jesus to be tedious and frustrating.

I’m sorry, but I’m with Tasha’s sinning atheist mother. Where was God when all these terrible things were happening to these poor people? I love the Woody Allen quote about God being an underachiever, because that’s what it really feels like sometimes, but I guess that isn’t the right attitude to go into this book with. All the religious scenes could have been cut from this book and I wouldn’t have missed them one bit. These themes weren’t as didactic as they could have been, but they personally didn’t do anything for me.

I enjoyed this book’s beautiful prose and rich character development, and the way that although Tasha’s narrative initially seemed rough and was not grammatically correct, it had a flow like poetry to it. I appreciated the depth Porter put into her main character, and although she had some serious flaws you just wanted things to be okay for her. Imani All Mine is not a long book, but it is an emotionally draining experience so you have to be in the mood to take it on. I want to check out Connie Porter’s other book, All-Bright Court, next time I go to the library. This woman has a gift for language, and creating characters that are rich with detail. I hope she goes on to write many more novels in the future.

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