BLACK GIRL UNLIMITED by Echo Brown is a tremendous, transporting read. It’s difficult and poetic and immersive. Brown leans heavily on autobiographical content, but the magical realism gives permission to readers to lose themselves in the story without feeling sorry for the inspiration behind the characters. It also keeps us from judging or giving up on the characters, which the novel also never does. The subjects of child sexual abuse, rape, drug abuse and overdoses, neglect, racism and misogyny, class disparities, poverty all connect and overlap consciously and unsparingly. Surrounding the abrasive and unflinching storyline is a surreal acceptance of another reality that includes women who are wizards, an in-between, and veils that hover over and surround those with tragedy and self-doubt in their lives.
Echo’s first-person narrative is filled with painful and harsh experiences that follow her from childhood to her late teens. The earliest scene sets the tone as 6-year-old Echo realizes she’s trapped in her smoke-filled apartment with her infant brothers and her overdosed mother as her building burns. Sometimes, as in this case, a rescue occurs. Other times, as with a friend who is hit by a car or when she is raped, the repercussions of trauma become a part of her life and path.
Part of the magical realism used in this novel is a consistent jumping from one timeline to another during pivotal events. Brown connects different experiences throughout Echo’s life by intertwining the themes and milestones through juxtaposition. By the time we reach the most effective example – combining a speech in a church with a speech at graduation – we, as readers and observers, are comfortable enough with the format that it makes all the sense in the world. It’s a structural tool that the author utilizes to powerful effect.
The novel’s sections that deal with forgiveness, especially self-forgiveness, are incredibly moving. (I may be tearing up even as I type this.) She accepts help and works to persevere, really works at it, as life continually slams doors in her face and throws rocks in her path. I don’t want to go too deeply into the specific incidents that shape and affect Echo’s life, but it is her loyalties to as well as her boundaries with family and friends that help create a character that becomes a relatable and admirable superhero. The novel shows us we can all become wizards if we “cultivate the dark and grow the light.” Highly recommended for ages 16+.
I’m really looking forward to following Echo Brown as a performer and an author in the future.