Jam on the Vine: Book summary and reviews of Jam on the Vine by LaShonda Barnett

Jam on the Vine

A Novel

by LaShonda Barnett

Jam on the Vine by LaShonda Barnett X
Jam on the Vine by LaShonda Barnett
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About this book

Book Summary

A new American classic: a dynamic tale of triumph against the odds and the compelling story of one woman's struggle for equality that belongs alongside Jazz by Toni Morrison and The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Ivoe Williams, the precocious daughter of a Muslim cook and a metalsmith from central-east Texas, first ignites her lifelong obsession with journalism when she steals a newspaper from her mother's white employer. Living in the poor, segregated quarter of Little Tunis, Ivoe immerses herself in printed matter as an escape from her dour surroundings. She earns a scholarship to the prestigious Willetson College in Austin, only to return over-qualified to the menial labor offered by her hometown's racially-biased employers.

Ivoe eventually flees the Jim Crow South with her family and settles in Kansas City, where she and her former teacher and lover, Ona, found the first female-run African American newspaper, Jam On the Vine. In the throes of the Red Summer - the 1919 outbreak of lynchings and race riots across the Midwest - Ivoe risks her freedom, and her life, to call attention to the atrocities of segregation in the American prison system.

Skillfully interweaving Ivoe's story with those of her family members, LaShonda Katrice Barnett's Jam! On the Vine is both an epic vision of the hardships and injustices that defined an era and a moving and compelling story of a complicated history we only thought we knew.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. This compelling work of historical fiction about a black female journalist escaping Jim Crow laws of the South and fighting injustice in Kansas City, MO, through her reportage, will bring wider recognition to the role of the African American press in American history, especially during 1919's Red Summer of lynchings and race rioting in northern cities." - Library Journal

"An impassioned historical novel chronicles the early-20th-century resurgence of African-American activism through the life of a poor Texas girl who channels a lifelong love of newsprint into a groundbreaking journalism career... Barnett excels here at what for most writers is a difficult task: evoking what it feels like to grow into one's calling as a writer through psychological intimacy as much as immediate experiences." - Kirkus

"A celebration of beauty, boldness, of the flowering of family, and the triumph of liberty against the odds that freedom and justice always face, this big-hearted kaleidoscopic novel illuminates our history and Barnett's indomitable protagonist lifts up the reader." - Amy Bloom

Jam On the Vine is a wonder of a first novel. Following the struggles of one remarkable family through generations of adversity, this powerful and beautifully written story resonates with historical significance and shines in the end with the triumph of the human spirit." - Amy Greene, author of Bloodroot and Long Man

This information about Jam on the Vine was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Velma M

Jam on the Vine
A very tasty, tasteful,moving story of love, perseverance and tenacity in the early days of the 20th century. Reminded me of my family's dependency on the negro press growing up in Georgia, Indiana, Florida, Kentucky, and Texas.The most consistent things though all the moves was my parents everlasting love for each other, the church, and the Negro press. Newspapers came through the mail, regardless of where we lived. I remember most the Pittsburgh Courier, Norfolk Journal and Guide, and the Kansas City Call. We read about Joe Louis and his wives: Rose Morgan and Marva. I loved reading George Schuyler's column. This novel reminded me of the joys of the newspaper. When my mother and grandmother realized I could read it was a newspaper, the Indianapolis Star. I was 3 and a half years old. So I share Ivoe's love of newspapers from my earliest recollections. I read about lynching in the newspapers, and learned early on not to comment on what I read, because I wouldn't be allowed to read unacceptable materials. So I just keep my ears open and listened to adults talking while I was supposed to be napping. I shared Ivoe's curiosity and secrecy about reading adult business. I was always around books, newspapers and the radio. We all read in bed, on the porch, in the bathroom, in the kitchen and dining room after dinner. I feel humbled knowing how blessed I was, not like Ivoe,who had to take advantage of discarded newspapers. Reading transported me to foreign places like the Pacific theater, where my father was stationed in the army. This novel articulated so many of my feelings about reading and writing and being an African American woman in racist, prejudiced, America, Land of the free. Thanks be to God for Dr. Barnett's tribute to the human spirit.

Betty Taylor

Portrait of Life in Jim Crow America
This is a very honest look at life for a black woman trying to be a journalist in the US in the early 20th century.

Even in her childhood Ivoe is fascinated with newspapers. She steals every one she can from her mother’s white employer. The written word is her escape from the poverty she lives in. She becomes determined to fulfill her obsession with journalism. Her excellent writing and grades gain her a scholarship. She excels in journalism at the school. But when she applies for jobs she finds herself “overqualified. Her potential employers cannot see beyond her skin color.

The writing in most of the book sets the scene so perfectly. Some of the sayings are delightful. When a woman asks Lemon, Ivoe’s mother, if she knows Annie Faye, Lemon replies with “We’ve howdyed but we ain’t never shook.” And then there is “Every time I stand up, my mind sits down.” And when Roena, Lemon’s daughter-in-law, says she regrets marrying Timbo, Lemon tells “Can’t put the rain back in the sky.” I love that!

The characters are down to earth and seem so real. Life is hard for them but they keep on battling the poverty and discrimination they encounter every day of their lives. They do whatever it takes to support their families. Lemon makes jam and prepares vegetables for the community; her husband, Ennis goes off with the plan to make money and have his join him later.

The author describes the minor transgressions that get mostly the black men (but some women too) thrown into jail. The conditions of those jails are deplorable. It nauseated me to even read about them.

When Ivoe continues to find herself unable to break into journalism, her lover and the community encourage her to start her own black newspaper. It was interesting to read how they went about doing it, and the resistance they encountered.

The last chapter was a real disappointment to me. It seemed as though Ms. Barnett had a vast amount of research she had not gotten into the book. So in the last chapter it is all thrown in there. The chapter is rushed, disconnected, and preachy. It was a truly disappointing end to an otherwise wonderfully written novel

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