I just read Claudie's second book! Here's the summary and review!
If you don't want to be spoiled, don't click this post... BUT make sure to order the book on americangirl.com or another retailer!
While on the road on her way to her cousin Sidney’s farm in Georgia, Claudie finds herself homesick for Harlem. Claudie thinks about how Gwen told her in the previous book that traveling and getting out of the house would spark her imagination for what she’d want to write about for the play she was going to put on to save Miss Amelia’s boardinghouse, but she finds herself not being able to come up with anything. Claudie talks with her mom about it, but her mom tells her that with the change of location, there will be a “new set of rules” Claudie has to follow, referring to Jim Crow segregation laws, and that they will have to “stay out of trouble”.
After three days in the car, Claudie gets exhausted, and so she and her mom stop to refill for gas. However, the car overheats when Claudie and her mom are almost to the farm, so they decide to just walk to the farm. While on their walk, a white sheriff stops Claudie and Mama, asking them where they are going. After Mama answers, the sheriff leaves, but the encounter makes Claudie wonder why her grandmother and her family would even want to live in Georgia.
Claudie arrives at her grandmother’s house in Shellman, Georgia, and Claudie meets her grandmother and that side of the family for the first time. Claudie can tell that they already love her, which makes her feel excited as she plays outside with her cousins Ross and Mavis. Soon, Claudie learns that her great-grandfather was enslaved on the same land they live on, and after the Civil War, he became a sharecropper who eventually purchased the land, yet always had to keep the deed so he wouldn’t lose it thanks to racist neighbors. Claudie wonders why some people, like her parents, leave, while other people stay. She asks her grandma to tell her a story, and so she tells Claudie a tale about enslaved people who grew wings and flew all the way back to their African home they were stolen from.
The next morning, after helping on the farm, Claudie hangs out with Ross and Mavis, who are 2 years older than she is. As Claudie describes Harlem to them, the cousins feel like Harlem would be too loud and then go on to teach Claudie how to climb a tree - something that isn’t really a thing in Harlem. That afternoon, Claudie goes to a general store to pick out a gift for her brother Jody, but is stared down by a white cashier who rudely slams Mama’s change down. Claudie, Mama and Cousin Sidney then notice that a Black-owned farm was burned down, and the owner, Mr. Boman explains that racist people have been trying to run them out of the county. Claudie then learns that her journalist Mama wants to write about the fire, but her Grandma urges her not to. Mama promises not to, but Claudie still worries about them.
After not being able to come up with any ideas for her play, Claudie asks Grandma why she’d even want to still stay in Georgia, and why Mama left. Her grandmother explains that the land in Georgia is part of her family’s legacy, but everyone has their own path to follow. Claudie then attends the county fair in Georgia, but cannot find her mother - and realizes that she’s reporting on the fire. Angered out of worry for her mother, Claudie decides to try to catch her in her reporting act.
Late at night, Claudie, Mavis and Ross climb into Mama’s car while she interviews the Bomans. Claudie then exposes herself, but they continue to hide - as a sheriff confronts Mama again, saying that a woman from New York City is “agitating people”. Claudie confronts Mama about her feelings regarding the piece, saying that she’ll make things worse and that she doesn’t care about anyone, she just wants to see her name in the paper. Mama tells a regretful Claudie to go to bed.
Claudie sulks outside the next morning, feeling like she won’t be able to talk to Mama. However, Mama comes to her and tells Claudie that she wanted to just report on something that mattered because when she was a young girl in Shellman, she saw a man lynched, hanging from a tree. The injustice caused her to leave Shellman, move to Harlem, and become a journalist. Claudie admits to Mama that she wants to write, too, but she doesn’t know what to write about. Mama encourages Claudie to use her imagination, and as Claudie asks her grandmother about the people who can fly story the night they leave Georgia, she tells her that fiction is powerful - “just because something didn’t happen doesn’t make it any less true.” As Claudie leaves Georgia, she is finally inspired to write something.
When Claudie returns to the boardinghouse, she discovers a new boarder, Irving, who is studying to become an engineer and can build things. Inspired by her trip to Georgia, Claudie finally remembers why she’s writing again - to show her love for Harlem - and finished the play on the trip home. During the extensive rehearsals, Gwen reminds Claudie that she agreed to perform in the variety show, and Claudie shares that she’s worried about the play. Gwen tells her that if she thinks it’s good, then that’s all that matters. After talking to Miss Amelia and thinking about how every boarder in the house had to discover their talent, Claudie asks if she can have a costume for the show, too.
Claudie spends a day putting up posters around town advertising the show, but worries that nobody will show up. At the bakery her dad works at, Claudie tells Daddy about her fears, but Daddy tells her not to worry, because all artists feel afraid to create at first. Claudie then approaches a group of writers across the street, who agree to come to her show.
The night before Claudie’s show, Claudie stays up thinking about it. Mama notices, makes Claudie milk, and tells her that she’s proud of Claudie for bringing everyone together through her work. Claudie then realizes that art is special because everyone can enjoy it, and that she doesn’t care what she’s good at, because she can share it with the people she loves. On the day of the show, there is a long line to buy tickets, and towards the end of the show, Claudie learns that she was able to save the boardinghouse. She then goes out with a mechanization Irving built to make her fly, all while telling her version of the People Who Can Fly folktale - where they all fly home to Harlem.
That was worth the ten-month wait.
Is there any words left to be said about Brit Bennett's writing, about the character of Claudie and the other characters and her adventures and how her character archetype feels like a return to the Pleasant Company formula that churned out hit doll after hit doll? There truly aren't. In fact, I feel like this book was kind of ... better than the first one. And that says a lot because I cried during the first one.
What truly elevated the book for me was how the story explored all the different dynamics during the 1920s for African-Americans. I learned a little bit about the Harlem Renaissance during history class last semester, but that on-paper background information was truly elevated and enriched by the storytelling, both with familiar aspects from book 1 like the rent crisis and new elements such as being Black in the South during the segregation era and how the Great Migration influenced different people. All the characters are dynamic representations of this era, especially Claudie herself, who learns about speaking up for what she believes in, telling the stories she wants to tell, and not letting anyone (or fear) stop her from expressing what she wants to say.
The only complaint I'd have about this story is that it ends. The book's text is only sixty-nine pages, and just like the last Claudie book, it is way too short. The short lengths of the Pleasant Company books were fine since there were six, but it seems like Claudie is only getting two, and Isabel and Nicki and Kavi are only getting one???? WE NEED TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THESE CHARACTERS, AMERICAN GIRL! GIVE US MORE BOOKS!
I loved it. 10/10. Brit Bennett, you deserve the entire world, a million dollars, and a contract with American Girl to develop a Reconstruction-era doll like you mentioned in the author Q&A in the back of this book.