Excerpt from Moonrise Over New Jessup by Jamila Minnicks, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Moonrise Over New Jessup

by Jamila Minnicks

Moonrise Over New Jessup by Jamila Minnicks X
Moonrise Over New Jessup by Jamila Minnicks
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    Jan 2023, 336 pages

    Nov 28, 2023, 352 pages


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We parked and hustled up Venerable Ave. towards a tan-skinned woman locking the door to the Taylor Made Dress Shop. Mrs. Brown started in right away, bragging on all my sewing. The woman looked me over from head to foot in silence; then she lowered her glasses and looked over top of them, inspecting me with a look practiced in finding flaws.

No, ma'am, I had not worked as a seamstress assistant. Yes, ma'am, I had just learned how to use a sewing machine. No, ma'am, I had no formal training. Yes, ma'am, I graduated high school. No, ma'am, I never worked with satin, lace, silk, or sequins. And yes, ma'am, I was new in town. She invited us inside, where she inspected my work closer. She needed not look at the tag inside the collar to know I had cut down a Vivian Taylor Laramie original. But she looked anyway, maybe to confirm that somebody had nerve enough to alter work created by her hand.

"What is your name again?" she asked my reflection in the mirror.

"Alice. Alice Young."

"And you only recently learned to use a Singer sewing machine, Alice Young?"

"Yes, ma'am. Just a couple weeks ago."

Her lips pursed in a little smile and she nodded at Mrs. Brown.

"Well, you'll stand up straight, hold your head high, and enunciate in my shop," she instructed. "You'll be on time and dress the part. You'll carry yourself with distinction, both here, and throughout New Jessup when you work at Taylor Made. Are we clear?"

I have no idea whether or not I knew I was home. What I knew, and wanted Rosie to know, and come see, was that this, too, was Alabama.


Didn't matter that I was five, and Rosie six, when she promised never to leave me. Her words were full of the kind of truth only children can tell—bursting with the belief and imagination of an uncorrupted heart. And in devout adoration of my older sister, I believed her. Even years later, well after she thieved away in the night, I was grasping at the air she left behind.

She promised on the day when we made acquaintance with a sugar maple so ancient it invented sugar. Maybe it was two trees joined at the bottom—I never really knew why the two massive trunks came together in that V the way they did, but it called to us on a clear day as sheep clouds grazed across the sky. Me and Rosie were born eighteen months apart, some years into the landowners and bosses now blaming "The Depression" as their reason for their shorting my family's wages. By the summer of 1940, me and my sister were old enough to know a weed from a shoot and fetch water from the pump, so we helped our folks doing field work—planting, tending, and harvesting whatever the landowners wanted in the ground. Mama also sold pies at O'Dell's Grocery—the Negro store in Rensler—and sometimes Daddy delivered guano for a fertilizer dealer or cut timber. But mostly, we were in the cotton.

That day, me and Rosie raced through our noontime dinner because we were convinced the clouds were just low enough to glance the branch tips and turn to spun sugar. We meant to climb that sugar maple and get a taste. A middling climber by then, I knew better than to look down. Rosie scrambled up the right trunk, and me, the left, because I was smaller and those branches were closer together. As branches do, they thinned as we climbed higher until I reached one that creaked. I looked down. We were sky high and I froze, hugging the trunk tight and pouring water from my eyes. The sound of my own wailing filled my ears until Rosie's soft, but firm, words eased in between my sniffles.

"Stairsteps going up, stairsteps going down, Alice. We got to come down from here."

I refused and screamed when the branch groaned. My arms were more splayed than hugging the tree, and with Rosie safely on the other trunk, it would have been my fall alone. I looked down, wondering how the next branch had been so close coming up and was now a mile away.

Excerpted from Moonrise Over New Jessup by Jamila Minnicks . Copyright © 2023 by Jamila Minnicks . Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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