BookBrowse Reviews We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds

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We Deserve Monuments

by Jas Hammonds

We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds X
We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds
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    Nov 2022, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jane McCormack
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In this YA debut, a biracial teenager learns dark secrets from her family history after going to live with her grandmother in a small Georgia town with a legacy of racism.

Jas Hammonds' debut young adult novel We Deserve Monuments provides a fresh look at the coming-of-age experience in America today. Avery Armstrong is uprooted from her comfortable upper-middle-class existence in Washington, D.C., and forced to complete her senior year of high school in the fictional small town of Bardell, Georgia due to her grandmother's rapidly escalating terminal illness and increasing need for care. She does not know much about ornery, sickly Mama Letty. The only fact with which Avery is armed is that her mother and grandmother harbor mutual resentments firmly anchored in the past, making the atmosphere around them thick with unspoken emotions.

In addition to the bewildering dynamics of Avery's new home, she must also acclimate to a new school in which she is a minority. According to the locals, there is "a white school and a Black school," but Avery is enrolled in the predominately white Beckwith Academy. Though she is a bit jarred by the clear racial lines that envelop Bardell, she adopts her mother's steadfast approach and invokes her unwavering mantra: "Focus Forward." Her intentions quickly dissolve, however, when she meets her intriguing and gregarious neighbor, Simone, and develops a crush. Avery is captivated, and Simone cajoles her into finding a little Bardell adventure with her best friend, Jade. Soon Washington, D.C., and all of its flourish feel very far away.

Hammonds' plot traverses the earmarks of coming of age with pitch-perfect range. Likable and credible characters navigate the tricky waters of adolescence, riding the crest of seemingly infinite dreams and possibilities until they crash into the sobering realization that possibilities are not certainties. Jade, Avery and Simone share those intimate firefly moments that flash bright and burn fast. The trio grapples with what Avery's father calls "the messiness of life" — sexuality, discrimination, familial history — and the realization that not all teen friendships survive the challenge of growing up. Hammonds captures that deep desire to explore and embrace one's identity that peaks in adolescence and is often hampered by the fear that one's authentic self might not be accepted by those one hopes to impress.

In addition to exploring the precarious nature of adolescent friendships and romance, Hammonds also delves into the challenging tightrope of parent/child relationships during the coming-of-age process. While Avery's parents hope to shield her from her mother's traumatic childhood and Mama Letty's dark secrets, Avery insists she must learn about her heritage regardless of the pain it may bring. As she spends more time with Mama Letty, she discovers the underbelly of Bardell: its sinister racist, bigoted and murderous past. This knowledge threatens to topple many relationships as Avery takes careful measure of all of those around her.

Jas Hammonds' We Deserve Monuments is a timely and refreshing coming-of-age novel addressing issues of Black and LGBTQ+ identity and examining how historical racism and bigotry reverberates through generations. Jettisoned into a new environment and learning the stories of those who came before her, Avery ponders how a world so beautiful could harbor so much pain.

Reviewed by Jane McCormack

This review first ran in the January 18, 2023 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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