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Frying Plantain
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Frying Plantain
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Set in the neighbourhood of "Little Jamaica," Frying Plantain follows a girl from elementary school to high school graduation as she navigates the tensions between mothers and daughters,...
Set in the neighbourhood of "Little Jamaica," Frying Plantain follows a girl from elementary school to high school graduation as she navigates the tensions between mothers and daughters,...
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Description-

  • Set in the neighbourhood of "Little Jamaica," Frying Plantain follows a girl from elementary school to high school graduation as she navigates the tensions between mothers and daughters, second-generation immigrants experiencing first-generation cultural expectations, and Black identity in a predominantly white society.

    Kara Davis is a girl caught in the middle — of her North American identity and her desire to be a "true" Jamaican, of her mother and grandmother's rages and life lessons, of having to avoid being thought of as too "faas" or too "quiet" or too "bold" or too "soft." In these twelve interconnected stories, we see Kara on a visit to Jamaica, startled by the sight of a severed pig's head in her great-aunt's freezer; in junior high, the victim of a devastating prank by her closest friends; and as a teenager in and out of her grandmother's house, trying to cope with ongoing battles of unyielding authority.

    A rich and unforgettable portrait of growing up between worlds, Frying Plantain shows how, in one charged moment, friendship and love can turn to enmity and hate, well-meaning protection can become control, and teasing play can turn to something much darker.

Excerpts-

  • From the cover

    From "Pig Head"

    On my first visit to Jamaica I saw a pig's severed head. My grandmother's sister Auntie had asked me to grab two bottles of Ting from the icebox and when I walked into the kitchen and pulled up the icebox lid there it was, its blood splattered and frozen thick on the bottles beneath it, its brown tongue lolling out from between its clenched teeth, the tip making a small dip in the ice water.

    My cousins were in the next room so I clamped my palm over my mouth to keep from screaming. They were all my age or younger, and during the five days I'd already been in Hanover they'd all spoken easily about the chickens they strangled for soup and they'd idly thrown stones at alligators for sport, side-eyeing me when I was too afraid to join in. I wanted to avoid a repeat of those looks, so I bit down on my finger to push the scream back down my throat.

    Only two days before I'd squealed when Rodney, who was ten like me, had wrung a chicken's neck without warning; the jerk of his hands and the quick snap of the bone had made me fall back against the coops behind me. He turned to me after I'd silenced myself and his mouth and nose were twisted up as if he was deciding whether he was irritated with me or contemptuous or just amused.

    "Ah wah?" he asked. "Yuh nuh cook soup in Canada?"

    "Sure we do," I said, my voice a mumble. "The chicken is just dead first."

    He didn't respond, and he didn't say anything about it in front of our other cousins, but soon after they all treated me with a newfound delicacy. When the girls played Dandy Shandy with their friends they stopped asking me to be in the middle and when all of them climbed trees to pluck ripe mangoes, they no longer hung, loose-limbed, from the branches and tried to convince me to clamber up and join them. For the first three days of my visit, they'd at least tease me, broad smiles stretching their cheeks, and yell down, "This tree frighten yuh like how duppy frighten yuh?" Then they'd let leaves fall from their hands onto my hair and laugh when I tried to pick them out of my plaits. I'd fuss and grumble, piqued at the taunting but grateful for the inclusion, for being thought tough enough to handle the same mockery they inflicted on each other. But after the chicken, they didn't goad me anymore and they only approached me for games like tag, for games they thought Canadian girls could stomach.

    "What's taking you so long?" My mother came up behind me and instead of waiting for me to answer, leaned forward and peered into the icebox, swallowing hard as she did. "Great," she whispered. "Are you going to be traumatized by this?"

    I didn't quite know what she meant — but I felt like the right answer was no, so I shook my head. My mother was like my cousins. I hadn't seen her butcher any animals, but back home she stepped on spiders without flinching, she cussed out men who tried to reach for her in the street, and I couldn't bear her scoffing at me for screaming at a pig's head.

    "Eloise!" Nana called. My grandmother came into the kitchen from the backyard and stood next to us, her hands on her hips. The deep arch in her back made her breasts and belly protrude, and the way she stood with her legs apart reminded me of a pigeon.

    "I hear Auntie call out she want a drink from the fridge. That there is the freezer yuh nuh want that. Yuh know wah Bredda put in there? Kara canna see that, she nuh raise up for it."

    "I closed the lid," said my mother. "Anyway, it was a pig's head. It's not like she saw the pig get slaughtered. She's fine."

    "Kara's a soft one. She canna handle these things."

    I felt my...

About the Author-

  • ZALIKA REID-BENTA is a Toronto-based writer whose work has appeared on CBC Books, in TOK: Writing the New Toronto, and in Apogee Journal. In 2011, George Elliott Clarke recommended her as a "Writer to Watch." She received an M.F.A. in fiction from Columbia University in 2014 and is an alumnus of the 2017 Banff Writing Studio. She completed a double major in English Literature and Cinema and a minor in Caribbean Studies at University of Toronto's Victoria College. She also studied Creative Writing at U of T's School of Continuing Studies. She is currently working on a young-adult fantasy novel drawing inspiration from Jamaican folklore and Akan spirituality.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    January 27, 2020
    In Reid-Benta’s heartfelt debut collection of linked stories, a girl grows up in Toronto while coming to terms with her heritage. On a trip to Jamaica at age 10, Kara screams after finding a pig’s severed head in her great-aunt’s icebox. Back home, she brags to her classmates that she was the one who slaughtered it. Each story introduces a new uncomfortable situation while advancing along the timeline of Kara’s life. In “Snow Day,” Kara tries on a patois (“Yuh run yuh mouth too much”) and receives taunts from her middle school peers for “Ja-fakin’ it.” In “Lovely,” she lands her first job and loses her virginity at 17. In “Celebration,” Kara and her mother, Eloise, get drunk together for the first time on the eve of her high school graduation, while in “Drunk,” she and her friends party harder, leading to Kara throwing up in front of Eloise. Along the way, strong characters emerge, including Eloise, a sharp, overbearing woman who wants nothing more than to see her daughter succeed; and Kara’s churchgoing grandmother, Nana, who shows her affection through cooking for the whole family. Reid-Benta makes good use of the episodic form, artfully blending Kara’s wit and distance with startling vulnerability as she tracks Kara’s thought processes and desires. This heralds a notable new voice.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from February 15, 2020
    Though Kara was born in Canada, her family is Jamaican, living in Toronto's Little Jamaica section. These 12 interrelated stories examine Kara's life from when she was 10, and deemed too soft by her grandmother, to age 19, when she is a university student. While most of the stories are told in Kara's first-person voice, sharing slices of life, her mother and grandmother loom large. Both women are highly opinionated and short-tempered, their relationship fraught with angry altercations, which Kara faithfully records, noting that peace could only exist in this family when we lied about everything, at least to each other. She is a natural storyteller, as when, at 10, she recounts to her rapt classmates having seen a pig's frozen head while on a trip to Jamaica. The experience becomes more elaborate with each retelling. Many of her stories, however, are low-key, recounting coming-of-age moments: her first kiss, her first experience of sex, to which she submits, she writes, to know if she can feel anything. Like Kara, Reid-Benta is a natural storyteller; her prose is straightforward and unadorned except, perhaps, when she shares the grandmother's voice in its use of Jamaican patois. Her characterizations are acute, bringing her characters to vivid life. Her first book, this splendid collection marks her as a writer to watch.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2020, American Library Association.)

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    House of Anansi Press Inc
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