Reviewed by Joe Walters
This stunning short story collection puts Black girls and women on center stage, glues its audience to their seats.
Starting with Black girls in “The Lower School” and continuing forward with women in “The Upper School,” this collection gives Black female readers the opportunity to focus on themselves and each other, while offering readers outside of the demographic the opportunity to empathize with the everyday plights facing Black women in the United States.
While these stories aren’t necessarily linked, they surely operate within the same world—within ours—and more specifically, within the world of Washington D.C. Through the gaze of different lifestyles, we witness the ways in which these women take action to understand themselves and grow uniquely into their own.
Training School covers a wide range of different topics including the connection of Black women, loving both Black and white men, everyday microaggressions, and much more. There’s even one story in here (“The Ropes”) that slides us into the perspective of a judgmental teacher’s eyes, showing us a young Black girl who continues getting in trouble, but told from the point of view of a teacher who wants it to happen. In a way, it calls for readers to reach into its pages and awake the teacher from the issues she’s not willing to recognize in herself, while also recognizing that the teacher is a Black woman in the world too.
The first story opens the collection with power, employing the first-person plural “we,” gathering together the voices of Black youth and igniting a conversation of unity between Black girls that we’ll see unfolding in the rest of the collection. It speaks honestly about how they’re seen in the world and celebrates the actions that are true to themselves.
Another favorite of mine is “Mambo Sauce,” where we follow one young woman’s romantic relationship with an un-activated white man who can’t seem to recognize clear microaggressions in his group of his white friends. But it’s not only about the issues in this interracial relationship; it also keeps our eyes close to our protagonist’s shifting relationship with the Black community in her neighborhood, serving up a complicated climax that lingers long after closing its final page. It’s a sharply complex reflection on our protagonist’s concerns with her personal choices and her changing impact on her Black neighbors.
This will undoubtedly go down as one of the best books I’ve read in 2020. While I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to read Training School so that I can discover the plights, joys, connections, and truths impacting Black women in our country, this book is first for the Black girls and women looking for themselves and their own issues in the books they enjoy.
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