From Andrea Payne
Title: Fish & Grits
Author: Tina Smith-Brown
This story is about 14-year old, African-American Kala Johnson, but narrated in the voice of her younger sister, who never reveals her name. The story is based in the 1980s in a Philadelphia housing project. Kala, who is basically the head of household and raising her four younger siblings douses her sexually abusive father with a pot of hot grits that she is preparing for siblings, who have become accustomed to going hungry, after he engages in some inappropriate behavior while she is cooking. She and the other children watch him “dance to his death.” Their mother is a drug addict and is absent for most of the story, only to return a few items to steal items to sell for her next high; or in one instance, pimp out her youngest son, “Baby”, who is developmentally disabled.
Kala finds comfort in eating fish – a meal forbidden by her father- accompanied by grits. Kala is the heroine of the story as she manages to excel scholastically; hold down a job to support the family and raise her brothers and sister while teaching them morals and manners. Kala is also clairvoyant in that she dreams about future events before they happen and in those dreams, ironically, people are always represented by fish. After their mother dies, their ex- Marine, cross dressing uncle who calls himself, “Aunt Charlie,” arrives from Georgia and shows his nieces and nephews a parental and unconditional love they never knew and the true meaning of family. The book is a little heavy at times, but the characters are unforgettable and the author is vividly descriptive.