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Rafael Fannen is indeed young (14 years old), gifted (recipient of a minority scholarship to an all-male Catholic preparatory school), and black. He is also caught in a world where everything he relied upon is changing as he himself is changing. Rafe must confront the strange culture of his new school while contending with a mother who believes she is talking to angels. On the weekends, he tries to relate to his ex-con father’s latest commercial venture involving selling African related masks and spiritual items.
And at school he repeats to himself the mantra: “No homo.”
The primary characters in Bereft are full-bodied and real. Rafe is a young man caught between multiple worlds. As Rafe’s mother, Ursele, succumbs to the images overcoming her reality, the reader can understand her needs and desires. His father develops into a real person, after his distance from being incarcerated. When Rafe is suspected of vandalizing the school and also of being homosexual, tension mounts, although not quite with the expected results.
Although it is difficult to determine where and when this novel takes place, Gidney’s descriptions are strong and vivid. Rafe’s experiences are full of sound, texture, and feeling. Gidney is masterful in his portrayal of the dichotomous elements of life – of light and dark; good and evil; black and white – and how Rafe must come to an understanding of the shades of grey.
Bereft tells the story of a black male teen living with a family becoming more dysfunctional over time, who does not want to succumb to the allure of the streets, and is suddenly submerged into a predominantly all-white male, religion-oriented, and strange, world. Gidney introduces multiple thematic issues including racism (from more than one perspective), mental illness, homelessness, religious/spiritual perspectives, parent-child relationships, and homosexuality. Given the number of complex, interrelated issues, which are indeed representative of an adolescent’s life, the reader desires more than Gidney provides in the 200 pages of the novel. Essentially, the one flaw of the novel is that there is simply not enough. Bereft might be more satisfying to the reader if it had included enhancements to the characters, settings, and history. Because of Gidney’s adeptness at characterization, description and emotionalism, there is a feeling this gifted author should – and could – provide more – that there is so much more Gidney wants and should say.
Gidney’s storytelling abilities, complemented by his deftness with words and strong writing skills, result in an outstanding contribution to the young adult genre. The believably realized characters, strong description, and relevant knowledge of the adolescent experience, when combined with his willingness to take on the “hard” controversial issues facing today’s youth’s marks him as an author to watch. Undoubtedly his future work will be even more rewarding for readers.
By Craig Laurance Gidney
Tiny Satchel Press
Paperback, 9780984914647, 200 pp.