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Book Report i

Intro to the Book

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them, by Junuada Petrus, is a deeply moving book that focuses on the lives of two teenage black girls from very different backgrounds, Mabel and Audre, as they navigate feeling into their queerness, physical and spiritual healing, racism, and shifting relationships. Gabby Rivera, author of Juliet Takes a Breath, describes the book as “The most gorgeous, profound, spiritually uplifting, queer Black Afro-futuristic-magical, ancestral love oracle/book I’ve ever read in my whole life.” It is beautifully written, with passages that read almost like poetry, and actual poetry interspersed throughout the book.


Writing about it I am almost at a loss because anything I say can’t possibly live up to the brilliance of this book. That being said, below are a few of the things I loved most about it. Many of these major themes in the book are interrelated. (This blog post contains light spoilers.)


Author Bio:

Edmund Green Langdell (they/them) is an ever becoming enby, whose work focuses on promoting human and environmental wellbeing through design and education. They work for Play Out Apparel as a Marketing Assistant. They strive to spread love and healing in the world through connection and education. They also design eco-friendly needle felted packers. They earned a BFA in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design, where they worked as a Peer Health Advocate for four years, and created and led Gender Venting, a group for transgender students.


Author Bio:

Edmund Green Langdell (they/them) is an ever becoming enby, whose work focuses on promoting human and environmental wellbeing through design and education. They work for Play Out Apparel as a Marketing Assistant. They strive to spread love and healing in the world through connection and education. They also design eco-friendly needle felted packers. They earned a BFA in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design, where they worked as a Peer Health Advocate for four years, and created and led Gender Venting, a group for transgender students.



INTRO TO THE BOOK

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them, by Junuada Petrus, is a deeply moving book that focuses on the lives of two teenage black girls from very different backgrounds, Mabel and Audre, as they navigate feeling into their queerness, physical and spiritual healing, racism, and shifting relationships. Gabby Rivera, author of Juliet Takes a Breath, describes the book as “The most gorgeous, profound, spiritually uplifting, queer Black Afro-futuristic-magical, ancestral love oracle/book I’ve ever read in my whole life.” It is beautifully written, with passages that read almost like poetry, and actual poetry interspersed throughout the book.


Writing about it I am almost at a loss because anything I say can’t possibly live up to the brilliance of this book. That being said, below are a few of the things I loved most about it. Many of these major themes in the book are interrelated. (This blog post contains light spoilers.)


Depth and growth of the characters 

Every one of the characters, even the ones that appear only briefly, have depth and distinct personalities that speak to the rich and varied lives that the characters have lived. The characters that continue to show up throughout the book undergo significant growth, healing, and learning to love more openly. I also appreciated that this book models positive, healthy friendship and family dynamics, while also showing the harsh alternative that is the reality for many queer folks.


Food as medicine 

A major theme of the book is healing, and one of the ways that this shows up is using food as medicine. Audre’s grandmother, Queenie, teaches her about the medicinal plants that grow in the forest in Trinidad, where they both live when the story begins, and later in the book we hear about Queenie learning about these plants from her father. Audre uses her knowledge of food as medicine to help heal Mabel when she becomes sick later in the book. Mabel’s dad also has a garden in his yard, which he calls Black Eden. Several scenes in the book take place in Black Eden, and in one Mabel’s dad says, “Black folks should know how to grow our own food, even if the white man done made us associate being with the land with being slaves. Our ancestors lived with the land and grew their own medicine and food, and we trying to teach y’all how to love and be comfortable with the land.”


Ancestors and ancestral healing

Both of the main characters connect with their ancestors, acknowledge the generational trauma that has been passed down to them, and do work to heal it. At one point, Queenie tells Audre, “Healing is like falling in love, but deeper. You unite with someone so that you can work alchemy with they soul. So that they might elevate and revive them and heal not only them but their ancestors.” The perspective that healing is not only done for oneself, but for every generation before and after the one who heals, is moving for me, and has helped me in my own healing. 


History and education

One of the things I appreciated most about this book was the history and education that was so skillfully interspersed throughout the book, focusing on a wide variety of subjects including Black history and discussions of racism, incarceration injustice, queer history and education, spirituality, emotional intelligence, and political organizing. 


Incarceration injustice

Within Stars and the Blackness Between Them, is the introduction to a book written by Afua, one of the prominent characters in the book. Afua is incarcerated, and in the introduction to his book he shares some of what it is like to live within the prison system, (trigger warning for Black folx who have been incarcerated or have had loved ones in jail.) “Incarceration is a sustained, lifetime lynching, meant to discard your soul and make a shell of you in plain life. Make you into your monster self, the beast that comes out when you are forced to survive in the absence of love and safety. Never mind that most of us come broken and traumatized. … In this society we are taught our crimes are the summations of our lives and define the limits of our possibility. Our only potential is to harm and destroy.” This passage broke my heart, because I recognized it so clearly from the time when I used to teach gardening in youth detention centers. I can’t count the number of times that the kids I taught told me, in various ways, that they didn’t think they deserved to receive the kind of program I was teaching, or that they didn’t believe they could ever be anything but a criminal. It broke my heart seeing how these messages were enforced on these kids day after day to the point where they had no other story about themselves to believe in. Below are a few quotes from the kids that I taught.


“Why don’t you teach at a regular school with good kids?” The same kid asked me this question several times throughout the months I was teaching him.


“That work’s not for me. I’m a criminal. I don’t do that. I’m a criminal.” I was having a conversation with a curious, intelligent, respectful boy about jobs and internships at parks and gardens in New York City. He was initially showing interest, until a friend of his joined us, and then he said this to me.


“I’m a monster. I shot at a grandma. I’m a monster.” A kid shared this with me while we were putting together a hydroponic tower to grow herbs on.


These are just a few small examples of the countless heartbreaking moments I witnessed. It broke my heart seeing how these kids were told a story about themselves that reduced their entire being to the one most violent moment of their lives. And how they internalized these stories, and lost hope of ever becoming anything else. And while I was teaching in youth detention centers, it was so inspiring to see the kids who, in the midst of all this, remained committed to gratitude, to joy, to learning. It was so inspiring to see the kids who, in the midsts of being told that society if better off without them, and that they are nothing more than the pain they have caused, aspire to a life outside of the gang violence, with a home, and a family, and a job, and higher education. And it was so inspiring to see the kids who were leaders, who made the space safe for those who wanted to engage and learn, even if they didn’t want to engage themselves. The kindness of these people in the midst of such dehumanization. It broke my heart to see the kids who didn’t think they deserved kindness, or good teachers, or anything but cruelty. And it was so inspiring to see the kids who celebrated their talents, their cooking, their rapping, their building/engineering skills, their leadership, their curiosity, their intelligence, their memory. 



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