Publisher/Date: Scribner, Feb. 2010
Genre(s): Coming of Age, Lesbian Real Life
Staceyann Chin – writer, prolific poet, political activist and purveyor of knowing your pussy – never had life easy. Growing up in Jamaica without a father and being abandoned by her mother almost promised her future would end up a tragic story. Yet, out the rubble of her childhood grew the unwavering spirit that turned her into the courageous woman you see on stage belting out her poems with such fervor.
In THE OTHER SIDE OF PARADISE, the reader gets to see the upbringing that birthed an artist. After being brought into the world Christmas Day, she is left behind with her brother, Delano, in the care of her grandmother. There, in the town of Lottery, Staceyann’s inquisitive and highly imaginative mind got her into adventures in school and at home, and allowed her to fill in the gaps of her mother’s whereabouts and her father’s identity. There, she also blossomed thanks to her grandmother’s nurturing, despite longing for her mother’s return.
When her mother does come back for them, it was clear to the nine-year-old that her mother is unfit to raise two young children. The siblings were quickly separated when their mother sent Delano to his father and left Staceyann with her auntie in an area called Paradise. What she experienced is anything but. The crowded, run down house of horrors was Staceyann’s nightmare. Abusive hands, harsh rules and unbearable conditions plagued her, but also helped her to protect and save herself.
From there, Staceyann’s quest for stability led to the discovery of her sexuality. After finally freeing from her auntie, she can be without the fear of punishment. She flourished at school, and later college, where she fell in love with a girl. Unafraid, Staceyann made this pronouncement to her classmates in her usual vociferous fashion. In Jamaica. Where violent homophobia runs rampant. But that’s of no matter to Staceyann Chin. She’s who she is, and makes no apologies.
That’s the heart of This Side of Paradise. While the seeds of neglect were planted with her mother’s disappearance, Staceyann cultivated this angst into the fruit of hope and fortitude. It helped that she had a wicked sense of humor and quick wits to match. Paradise is hard to swallow at times. Knowing she’s survived is the all the happy ending you need.
Reviewed August 2010