Review: Like One of the Family by Alice Childress
Title: Like One of the Family
Author: Childress, Alice
Length: 226 pages
Genre: Fiction, General
Publisher / Year: Beacon Press / 1986, originally published in 1956
Source: From the publisher for the project
Why I Read It: Our fifth read for The Real Help project project with Amanda.
Date Read: 12/11/11
Note: This is a project initiated by Amanda and I to read the books recommended by the Association of Black Women Historians as alternatives to The Help. Please see the dedicated page I created for more information and for a schedule. We are hoping that more readers join us and we are also looking for others to host discussions. For discussion of this title, head over to Amanda’s post.
This book is written as a collection of short monologues given by Mildred to her friend Marge over the span of a year or two. These monologues cover everyday life events as experienced working as a maid, going to church and various club events, going on picnics, to dances, and other events. The monologues are all short, usually between three to five pages, and were originally published weekly in newspapers.
I absolutely loved the way this book was written. I can imagine that the monologues would have been incredible when they came out each week in newspapers, and can see why so many people loved them. Collected together it is great to dip in and read a few at a time to get a sense of what life was like at that time. Each time is a new experience and Mildred comes to life off of the page, talking as she does. Marge seems a bit quiet and shy, but then we are never given her voice so it’s easy to put yourself in her place, and imagine how the conversation with Mildred really went.
Mildred is not afraid to say it how it is and is always willing to stand up for her rights when people try to take advantage of her. She is, for the most part, calm and strong and through her action is often teaching her employers where they are going wrong and things end up getting better. This isn’t always the case, but it is enough that she proves a character one would want to read about when dealing with people like that in your work every day.
This book contains an introduction by Trudier Harris in which she talks about how little the poor are really given a voice in fiction, and especially how little we hear from black women about their lives. The introduction was written in 1986 but I think it remains true today – our popular culture seems steeped in the well-off characters. Childress has definitely given a voice to a group of women and their experiences that is needed and that highlights so many of the difficulties life really contained.
Don’t forgot to also check out Amanda’s post for her review and for discussion questions.
NOTE: Amanda and I both received copies of this book from Beacon Press to read for the project, and we’re both giving away our copies. Amanda’s copy is available to US readers only and you can enter here. To be eligible to win my copy just leave a comment below, preferably related to the post and book Thank you to all who entered. Jill won my copy of the book.