This enticing debut novel from poet Turner (Lost and Found: Rhyming Verse Honoring African-American Heroes) chronicles a young black woman’s coming of age amid the turbulent racism of Louisiana and Boston just prior to the civil rights era. Nell Jones, born in 1941, grew up on a farm in Louisiana, basking in the support of her family and enjoying the comfort of books. At 16, she agrees to marry Henry Bight, a man 10 years her senior, and they move to Boston after being wed. Nell’s attraction to Henry wanes as he exerts total control over her life, barely letting her leave their apartment. After giving birth to two children, Nell demands that Henry allow her to attend church. There she meets Charles Johnson, a college-educated man who shares her love of books and learning. When their brief affair results in a child, Nell faces Henry’s wrath. But Turner eschews the traditional “fallen woman” plot, and Nell finds she has more resources and support than she expects.
The parts of the novel set in segregated Louisiana illuminate the socioeconomic and educational discrimination experienced by African-Americans. Turner alludes to the omnipresent undercurrent of fear, referencing the brutal hanging of Emmett Till and Nell’s startled awareness of overt discrimination when she visits her family after living in Boston.
Turner’s character work is excellent, establishing Nell, Henry, and Charles as real people, complete with imperfections. Nell in particular is a complex young woman, whose desire for love, family, and learning make her easy to connect with. Turner’s secondary characters are equally fleshed out and complex: Phyllis Leonard, a minister’s wife, is generous and but strict in her morals, accepting Nell into the church fold but masterminding Henry’s plan to evict Nell from their home after her infidelity. Turner has crafted an accessible and absorbing historical drama about one woman’s path to creating the life and home she wants.
Takeaway: This historical drama about surviving racism and abuse will move any reader interested in African-American lives in the early 20th century.
Great for fans of Jacqueline Woodson’s Red at the Bone, Toni Morrison’s Sula.
Production grades Cover: B Design and typography: A Illustrations: - Editing: A Marketing copy: B-
2020 Self-Publishing EBook Award Winner in Fiction
“A captivating story of a strong African American woman who pursues her dreams.”
“This historical drama about surviving racism and abuse will move any reader interested in African-American lives in the early 20th century.”
“Jennifer Smith Turner's Child Bride offers a rich and immersive evocation of life for a young black American woman in the mid-twentieth century. Her portrayals of both rural, segregated Louisiana and Boston, Massachusetts, are vivid, powerful, and striking in their historical accuracy. But it is protagonist Nell's journey as a woman seeking independence that makes this book stand out: her evolution from a child bride into a forceful and self-assured adult testifies to the incalculable value of a warm heart and an inquiring mind.”
Ursula DeYoung, Editor, Embark Literary Journal
“. . . Readers will be transfixed by the racial and personal challenges the heroine, Nell Jones, encounters and transcends in the segregated ‘Deep South’ and the ‘progressive’ North . . . ”
The Boulé Journal, The Official Publication of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity
“Child Bride, a first novel by Jennifer Smith Turner . . . takes us on a long, treacherous journey from the deepest reaches of the segregated South to . . . Boston, sometime in the middle of the last century . . . A self-described workaholic, she (Jennifer) also clearly qualifies as a renaissance woman . . . We’re lucky to have her here.”
Martha’s Vineyard Times
“Nell, the narrator and heroine of Jennifer Smith Turner’s new novel Child Bride, is a survivor in more ways than one . . . Nell’s love of literature, which begins in her one-room Louisiana school, shines through in her narration and dialogue . . .”
Martha’s Vineyard Gazette
“A well-woven story rich in culture, family bonds and the uniquely powerful will of women.”
Darryl Ford Williams, Vice President for Content, WQED Multimedia
“I love the ending! It made me so happy to picture Nell reading on the beaches of MV.”
Alexandra Pratt, Librarian, West Tisbury Library, Martha’s Vineyard
“What an engaging and powerful story. Turner’s first-person approach, wonderful writing, and very real story combined to yield a readable story that showed the challenges and dreams of growing up Nell.”
Daryl Brewster, CEO, Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose (CECP)
“Child Bride was a riveting read that captured my attention from beginning to the end. I loved the strong family connections and lessons. I cringed at the women getting married at such a young age. But I celebrated in the sisterhood that was highlighted when Nell arrived in Boston . . . the beauty shop and church . . . two places where women find refuge even today. I also appreciated the authenticity of how the church could shun you but ultimately rebound with forgiveness. This was truly a great novel, and I would eagerly read another book written by this author.”
Elicia Spearman, General Counsel, Quinnipiac University
“Nell was my hero from page one. Filled with innate intelligence, but so young and naive when she married, you soon wondered which ‘Nell’ she would become. What a treat to accompany her on that journey!”
Paula Lyons, former national and local television consumer reporter and regular panelist on NPR’s Says You
“Jennifer Smith Turner’s fine sense of detail gives this story valuable historical insight. . . . Turner’s eye for small points carries through this compelling story of one woman’s coming-of-age journey. A fine book for reading groups!”
Jane Arnold, Professor of English (retired), SUNY-Adirondack
“. . . a wonderful and emotionally powerful novel rooted in an historical context . . . Child Bride is a page-turning delight I highly recommend.”
Harry Seymour, artist and Professor Emeritus at UMass, Amherst
In 1950s Louisiana, an African American teenager must leave childhood and her ambitions behind when she marries an older man in this coming-of-age novel about the black diaspora, resilience, and courage.
Until the age of 16, Nell Jones’ home is a ramshackle house on “one of many small hog and pecan farms owned and worked by the descendants of sharecroppers and former slaves.” There, her mother teaches her how to cook, her father shows her how to use a pocket knife to peel an apple in one long spiral strip, and her oldest brother, Robert, tells her how to find the North Star in the night sky. Most of all, Nell loves school, where Miss Parker, a teacher, nurtures her naturally inquisitive nature and her passion for reading. Cocooned in the love of her family and her small community, Nell knows little of the outside world, but she later realizes, “for black southerners racism lived in the air we breathed.” Nell is still an innocent teen when Henry Bight comes to claim her as his bride and take her north to Boston. There, her dreams of becoming a teacher quickly evaporate in the face of Henry’s possessiveness and insistence that she have as many babies as possible. A few years later, Nell is the mother of three young children, a lonely and unfulfilled woman tied to an angry and controlling man. But she does possess an inner strength and stubbornness that will not allow her to simply abandon her dreams. Turner’s warm and personal narrative brings to life the vigor and interdependence of black communities in both the South and the North of the mid-20th century. Nell is an appealing, penetrating, and spirited protagonist whose struggles are relatable to all readers, but much of the power of her story lies in the fact that it is grounded in African American society. White characters make an occasional appearance, but the tale is centered on the black experience. It is disappointing that Nell’s eventual fate seems to rely heavily on the trappings of class privilege, but the book as a whole is uplifting and dynamic.
A captivating story of a strong African American woman who pursues her dreams.