'The Girl at the Back of the Bus' by Suzette D. Harrison is a historical fiction story that follows the paths of two women dealing with racial injustices decades apart.
Told in a split narrative across two timelines, the book begins centered around Mattie Banks. Sixteen years old and pregnant, she boards a bus, hoping the driver will carry her away from disaster. Purely by chance, she happens to witness an act of bravery by a woman named Rosa Parks. Inspired, she decides to go a different direction with her choices, but dangers and difficulties seem to rise up around her.
Meanwhile, in the present, Ashlee Turner.. dismayed by prejudice and its effects on a career she has worked so hard for, heads home to see her beloved grandmother while she still can. When she finds a hidden trove of letters containing a family secret, she too finds herself at a crossroads.
I was certainly enraged at the injustices portrayed here, likely in part because though so much time has passed since Mattie's tale, not nearly enough has changed. Normally I find it hard to read detailed accounts of the horrible things people do to each other in the name of some perceived right they think they have and I didn't like seeing those things here either. However, I find it incredibly important to keep talking about them.. because I fear that if we as a society ever allow ourselves to forget the things that have been done.. that are still being done.. we will fail to find them as horrifying as we should. And frankly, it seems we're on the verge of failing that anyway.
That being said, the writing is clean and crisp, the structure is sound, and the author does an excellent job of maintaining those two separate voices. There are no surprises here. Of course, there doesn't need to be a twist in everything, but I did come across a couple of spots where misdirection could have made the difference in keeping the storytelling itself, more interesting.
I've read that reviewers were "enthralled and riveted".. but for me, it was just pretty good. I believe the sheer quality of the writing carried the story for most people, but the storytelling aspect was actually outmatched by the technical skill of the author. Quite possibly, the events themselves inspired others to rate the story higher, and that makes absolute sense to me.. but in trying to be objective about the overall presentation, I feel like it could have been more balanced.
Yes. The things these two women experienced were unjust and should never have happened, but I actually think it could have packed a much bigger emotional punch than it did. I did enjoy the characters immensely though. From Dorothy and Mattie, to Ransome and Sadie.. they were painted vividly, full of warmth and determination.
Nonetheless, as I said.. there are some very important topics discussed here.. and that alone might make this story a worthwhile read. It's a good reminder of a terrible time that is not so far behind us and a healthy wake-up call not to dismiss current situations still facing people today.
Suzette D. Harrison, a native Californian and the middle of three daughters, grew up in a home where reading was required, not requested. Her literary "career" began in junior high school with the publishing of her poetry.
While Suzette pays homage to Alex Haley, Gloria Naylor, Alice Walker, Langston Hughes, and Toni Morrison as legends who inspired her creativity, it was Dr. Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings that unleashed her writing. The award-winning author of Taffy is a wife and mother of two teens, and she holds a culinary degree in pastry and baking. Mrs. Harrison is currently cooking up her next novel...in between batches of cupcakes.