Homeward: A Novel

  • By Angela Jackson-Brown
  • Harper Muse
  • 400 pp.
  • Reviewed by Anne Carrica
  • January 1, 2024

A young Black woman comes of age in the 1960s South.

Homeward: A Novel

In Homeward, Angela Jackson-Brown crafts a beautiful story of a young Black woman named Rose coming to realize she deserves so much more than what the world is offering. It’s a powerful tale of love, loss, community, and finding your way through troubled times.  

The novel is split roughly into two sections. The first focuses on Rose, her marriage, and her faith. She grew up in Parsons, Georgia, surrounded by a large, hardworking family who always looked out for one another. Nonetheless, she falls in love, marries young (against her family’s wishes), and moves to Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

While her new husband is away in the Air Force, Rose is unfaithful and becomes pregnant. She’s forced to face the consequences of her decisions and grow up, but tragedy strikes anyway. Her husband is killed, and her baby is stillborn. “I wish I would have died too,” she says.

Yet Rose also wants to live for the sake of her parents and siblings, so she returns home. Torn between what she has lost and what she has regained, she spends her hours idle, consumed by grief. It’s when her sister Ellena exposes Rose to something larger than both of them — the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) — that her world starts to expand.

At first, Rose disagrees with the organization’s efforts to gain equality for Black people. “I sort of worry that if we fight so hard to be everywhere white folks are, we’ll forget what it means to be with each other,” she admits. “I love my family and my community, and I don’t want that to change.”

Even more, Rose fears the fallout that SNCC might bring to communities like hers, telling Ellena, “I don’t want to die, and I don’t want any of my kin to die, because having the right to vote or eat at the Woolworth’s counter doesn’t mean more to me than my family.” In this way, Rose stands apart from many of her peers. She’s lived a fairly sheltered life mostly untouched by the racism other people of color have endured.  

That changes when she’s finally forced to witness — and live through — some racist atrocities firsthand. Once she does, about midway through the novel, she realizes “the time for us to be young and carefree has passed us all by.” The second half of the book chronicles Rose’s growth as a woman and a member of her community, which is now split. The younger folks want to protest, to vote, to demand their rights, while the older ones fear change and remember the everyday violence and degradation they endured in the past.

When Ellena is brutalized by police and jailed, and a local Black church is bombed, Rose knows she can no longer live her life passively:

“The burning of St. Luke’s was just what we all needed to recognize the fact that we were the ones who had to put a stop to all of the hatred. Not by making the white people love us, or even like us. No. our task was to make them respect us. It was going to be a long and arduous road, but together, we could do it.”

Rose is the bridge that can span the gap between the generations in Parsons. Having lost a husband and a child, she’s seen as an elder by many. Yet she’s still young and contemplates returning to school while figuring out what to do with the time God has given her. Eventually, she becomes the first registered Black voter in town.

In Homeward, Jackson-Brown has woven a story of grief and loss together with a tale of love and perseverance set amid the turmoil of the 1960s South. Throughout, she ably brings in historical elements to show what is — and was — possible when a community stands united.

Anne Carrica holds an MFA in Creative Non-Fiction and Fiction from Regis University’s Mile High MFA program.

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