Thank you to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours and Harper 360 for the invitation and opportunity to read this excellent debut fiction novel.
Desperate to be a mother after her multiple pregnancies ended in heartbreak, Laila turns to the Melancons, an old and powerful Harlem family known for their caul, a precious layer of skin that is the secret source of their healing power. When the deal for Laila to acquire the piece of caul falls through and her child is stillborn, she is overcome with grief and rage. What she doesn’t know is that her family will be forever intertwined with the Melancons when her niece, Amara, an ambitious college student, delivers a baby girl and gives her to the Melancons to raise as one of their own.
The baby, Hallow, is special. She is born with a caul and the Melancons’ matriarch, Maman, believes she will restore the family’s prosperity. Growing up, Hallow is kept sheltered in the Melancons’ decrepit brownstone while her cousin, Helena, is free to roam the streets. As she grows older, Hallow becomes suspicious of the Melancon women, particularly of whether Josephine, the woman she calls mother, really brought her into the world, and of Maman, who only seems to care about Hallow’s caul and the wealth it can bring to the family. As Hallow grows more distrustful of the family, the home itself begins to fall apart.
As the Melancons’ thirst to maintain their status grows, Amara, now a successful lawyer running for district attorney, looks for a way to avenge her longstanding grudge against the family. When Hallow and Amara cross paths, Hallow must decide where her loyalty lies.
This is my first time reading a book by Morgan Jerkins and I look forward to reading more in the future. I had initially been interested in reading the book after reading another book last year where the fishing community believed that having a piece of the caul would protect them from the dangers of the sea.
However this book isn’t just about the mystery and the magic surrounding the cauls, but looks at motherhood in many different ways, from how losing babies can damage the physical and mental health of a woman, how to cope with giving away a baby and can adopting a baby help you find your place in your family. The opening chapters are heartbreaking as Laila’s world falls apart.
There are many strong women in this book, from elderly Maman, her daughters Iris and Josephine, and her granddaughter Helena. Their lives are linked to Laila, Denise and Amara by the death of a baby and then the birth of baby Hallow.
The story follows the two families in Harlem over 20 plus years, as the area changes, and Hallow grows up. We discover why Helena is allowed to leave but Hallow is stuck in the brownstone, with pieces of her caul being sold off to wealthy white people, who believe this will help them keep them safe. Will the traditions of the past keep Hallow trapped?
I enjoyed reading this book, full of powerful stories, secrets and mysteries. I’ve never visited New York but this book gave me a glimpse of a different world without leaving my home. Happy to recommend and I look forward to reading more by Morgan Jerkin in the future.
Morgan Jerkins is the author of Wandering in Strange Lands and the New York Times bestseller This Will Be My Undoing and a Senior Editor at ZORA. A visiting professor at Columbia University and a Forbes 30 under 30 Leader in Media, Jerkins’s short form work has been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, ELLE, Esquire, and The Guardian, among many others. She is based in Harlem.