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Summary and book reviews of Three Girls from Bronzeville by Dawn Turner

Three Girls from Bronzeville

A Uniquely American Memoir of Race, Fate, and Sisterhood

by Dawn Turner

Three Girls from Bronzeville by Dawn Turner X
Three Girls from Bronzeville by Dawn Turner
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  • Published:
    Sep 2021, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Valerie Morales
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About this Book

Book Summary

A "beautiful, tragic, and inspiring" (Publishers Weekly, starred review) memoir about three Black girls from the storied Bronzeville section of Chicago that offers a penetrating exploration of race, opportunity, friendship, sisterhood, and the powerful forces at work that allow some to flourish…and others to falter.

They were three Black girls. Dawn, tall and studious; her sister, Kim, younger by three years and headstrong as they come; and her best friend, Debra, already prom-queen pretty by third grade. They bonded—fervently and intensely in that unique way of little girls—as they roamed the concrete landscape of Bronzeville, a historic neighborhood on Chicago's South Side, the destination of hundreds of thousands of Black folks who fled the ravages of the Jim Crow South.

These third-generation daughters of the Great Migration come of age in the 1970s, in the warm glow of the recent civil rights movement. It has offered them a promise, albeit nascent and fragile, that they will have more opportunities, rights, and freedoms than any generation of Black Americans in history. Their working-class, striving parents are eager for them to realize this hard-fought potential. But the girls have much more immediate concerns: hiding under the dining room table and eavesdropping on grown folks' business; collecting secret treasures; and daydreaming about their futures—Dawn and Debra, doctors, Kim a teacher. For a brief, wondrous moment the girls are all giggles and dreams and promises of "friends forever." And then fate intervenes, first slowly and then dramatically, sending them careening in wildly different directions. There's heartbreak, loss, displacement, and even murder. Dawn struggles to make sense of the shocking turns that consume her sister and her best friend, all the while asking herself a simple but profound question: Why?

In the vein of The Other Wes Moore and The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, Three Girls from Bronzeville is a piercing memoir that chronicles Dawn's attempt to find answers. It's at once a celebration of sisterhood and friendship, a testimony to the unique struggles of Black women, and a tour-de-force about the complex interplay of race, class, and opportunity, and how those forces shape our lives and our capacity for resilience and redemption.

Chapter One
Our Ledge

I often think about my sister and my best friend. Not every minute. Not even every day. I mostly think of them when I am experiencing something I would have wanted to share. Some moment that would allow us to tug on a line, thin as a filament, that begins "Remember when…" and draws a seemingly ever-present past nearer.

When I imagine us, we come into focus at our beginning—three young girls walking through our neighborhood under a prickly summer sun. I am nine years old, tall and lanky with long, ropy braids. Debra, my best friend, is shorter than me and, at eight and a half, is already prom-queen pretty. And then there's my sister, Kim, three years my junior. She's stealthily trailing us, even though I've bribed her with our mother's secret stash of lemon drops to stay away.

Mom is watching us from our eleventh-floor apartment window. She has told us to go outside and play.

"You two are the nosiest children God ever gave breath to," she always says. "...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Dawn is the story's anchor. While her resilience is the stuff of legends — the poor girl who tramples class barriers to write for the Chicago Tribune — her success isn't contagious. Debra and Kim have a tumultuous and predictable struggle, beginning in adolescence. And yet Turner's memoir isn't just about destiny and friendship. Her ability to masterfully dissect racialized Chicago, her parents' marriage and her father's flaws give the story its strength. In our society, we are repeatedly told that children of the working class have damaged psyches. Turner wants us to know there is more to it than that...continued

Full Review Members Only (849 words).

(Reviewed by Valerie Morales).

Media Reviews

New York Times
Turner, a former columnist for the Chicago Tribune and the author of two novels, interrupts the monolithic narrative of Black Chicago as ruined and broken, as well as the one-note stereotypes about growing up in public housing. In their place she offers a textured portrait of a moment in time in a particular place...Turner's suspension between two worlds provides an ideal vantage for the book.

Washington Post
Through the stories of three generations of women, Turner has given us a tutorial of urban decay, White privilege, poor city planning and the influence of fads and digital advances on Black urban teenagers...Turner is a natural born storyteller and a sponge for knowledge, trivia, memories, gossip and urban folk lore...She is a keen observer with a journalist's curiosity and the wisdom to know that the panorama becomes clearer the narrower the focus...At times, the lives and personalities of the adults threaten to eclipse the girls' tale. Still, this is an exceptional work, a memoir told with honesty, grit and a sly wit that continually takes readers to unexpected places.

Kirkus Reviews
A sensitive tale of tragedy and redemption against formidable odds.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[A]n immersive and often heartbreaking portrait of life in the historic Bronzeville section of Chicago...By turns beautiful, tragic, and inspiring, this is a powerful testament to the bonds of sisterhood and the importance of understanding the conditions that shape a person's life choices.

Library Journal (starred review)
[A]bsorbing...Turner shares Debra's and Kim's stories with aplomb, celebrating the bright moments of their lives while honestly depicting their suffering. She has a stellar ability to present the personalities of her loved ones, especially the women in her life. This memoir is a compelling testament to the power of women's relationships.

Booklist (starred review)
Astounding.

Author Blurb Alex Kotlowitz, author of An American Summer
Dawn Turner's Three Girls from Bronzeville is a beautiful ode to friendship and family, and an openhearted story of the unique journeys of Black women. Turner's story, told with unwavering candor, is by turns heartbreaking and stirring. This poignant memoir wouldn't let me go.

Author Blurb Bridgett M. Davis, author of The World According To Fannie Davis
Deep love and deep loss thrum throughout Dawn Turner's poignant and stunning memoir, a tale of sisterhood and friendship between three girls across time and place. Heartbreak but also redemption fuel this complex and nuanced story, upending everything we think we know about Black women who lose their way. The seamless blend of personal tale and astute reportage is remarkable, given that the book is also a suspenseful page-turner. I read breathlessly and choked up often, thinking, There but for the grace of God go I.

Author Blurb Jeff Hobbs, author of The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace
Three Girls from Bronzeville is such a beautiful and shattering book, and a rare read in which the delicate craft of the writing itself matches the depth of the themes it explores: coming of age, the invisible burdens of abandonment and poverty and racism, the impossible loyalties of friendship, triumph and regret, and—above all—love. This story is told with grace, humility, and courage. It will remain with me always.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Science of Forgiveness

Could you forgive the person who murdered your beloved son?

Weeks after Debra Trice was convicted of the first-degree murder of Raymond Jones she received a letter. It was from Margaret Jones, Raymond's mother. Mrs. Jones wrote, "[Y]ou have my forgiveness. So, when you feel you cannot make it, look up and talk to God, Jehovah is his name. Don't think of not living. He will not give you more than you can bear." She ended the letter with, "Please don't do anything to hurt your mother and sister's heart. They love you very much. Show them you are strong, not for yourself, but for them."

Debra is the sassy, pretty girl in Dawn Turner's memoir Three Girls from Bronzeville: A Uniquely American Memoir of Race, Fate, and Sisterhood. She ...

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