The Book Whisperer Discovers an Excellent Debut Novel


Lately, I’ve had the pleasure of reading several debut novels that really grabbed my attention. My most recent entry into debut novels is Moonrise Over New Jessup by Jamila Minnicks. It begins in 1957. I find the first few lines of the story appealing:  “The moon rises and sets, stitching eternity together, night by night. Love-spun thread binds family when even years, or blue skies, stand between one and another’s touch. Generations travel the same footprints, reach hands to the same climbing branches, and warm the same crown skin under the Alabama sun.”

The story continues from that opening to keep me reading. I discover Alice Young who is alone after her father’s recent death. Her sister Rosie has fled to Chicago, and Alice decides she will go there. Unfortunately, Alice does not have enough money to get out of AL, but less to get to Chicago. She buys a ticket to Birmingham, the furthest she can go on her tiny bit of money. Along the way, another passenger suggests that Alice should get off the bus at a stop to use the restroom and buy herself a Coke because the next stop is a long way off. He even gives her ten cents.

When she gets off the bus, Alice looks for the colored entrance to the bus station. She asks the shoeshine man where she should enter. He tells her to use the front door, but she is taken aback. Then he tells her she is in New Jessup, an all-Black town. Alice decides to stay there and finds help from Mr. and Mrs. Brown, a kind minister and his wife.

Alice can already sew by hand, but Mrs. Brown teaches her how to use a sewing machine. Soon, Mrs. Brown introduces Alice to Ms. Vivian Taylor Laramie, owner of the town’s dress shop. Ms. Laramie is impressed with Alice’s sewing skills and hires her. Alice starts a new life in New Jessup, but she still hopes to hear from her sister Rosie.

As mentioned earlier, it is 1957; the Civil Rights Movement is moving forward. Alice has no intention of becoming involved in politics, but life has a way of throwing the right people into situations at the right time. Alice’s involvement becomes almost necessary when she falls in love with and marries Raymond. He is an activist in the National Negro Advancement Society.

Not everyone in New Jessup agrees that integration is the way to go. The story heats up as the Civil Rights Movement continues to create change. The story provides historical background and gives readers a portrait of people fighting for rights.

For book clubs, Moonrise Over New Jessup is a goldmine of topics. Jamila Minnicks, educated as a lawyer, has turned her talents to writing. She is an author to watch.


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