Monday, June 24, 2013

Sister Souljah's "A Deeper Love Inside" ...Book Review

She done did it again.

This woman can write! Sister Souljah has created yet ANOTHER classic novel with the Porsche Santiaga Story, "A Deeper Love Inside" released in January of 2013.

Re-reading "The Coldest Winter Ever" helped to bring the characters of the Santiaga family back to the forefront of my mind. Winter, the spoiled and beautiful princess, Lexus and Mercedes, the twins and babies of the family, the stunningly gorgeous queen of the family, Lana, and of course the charming and powerful Ricky Santiaga...legend, respected drug lord, and eventually the fallen soldier who's demise is the downfall of this envied clan of Brooklyn's finest.

And then there was Porsche. Younger than Winter, older than the twins...she fell in between and was almost an oversight it seemed. Her most impactful moment in "The Coldest Winter Ever" was in the last scene, at the funeral of Lana Santiaga when through Winter's narration, we see Porsche arrive at the funeral, decked out in high-fashion, driving a Benz, and confident. She had blossomed, yet with Winter's tale we never had the opportunity to find out how or why. With Winter's finale thoughts at the end of the book, she wishes she could have warned her younger sister about the lifestyle she had chosen, assuming she has followed in her footsteps of crime, criminal associations, manipulations, and lusting after the fast life. Winter realizes that Porsche would have to learn on her own.

Naturally, with that last glimpse at Porsche, it seemed only natural that she would follow in the footsteps of her glamourous mother, who had been married to the drug don and could rival any fashion model, and her pampered sister who only allowed herself to associate with the finest things in life, and the most important people.

In the slight pause I took between re-reading "The Coldest Winter Ever" and beginning "A Deeper Love Inside" I wondered about Porsche's life, and the lessons she would learn. I originally assumed she might have travelled the same path as Winter, but then also realized that she couldn't...because THAT particular story had already been told. Winter had learned her lesson, or at least had to suffer the consequences of her poor choices. There was no way Porsche would learn the exact same lesson through the exact same circumstances.

Now many of us almost pigeonhole Sister Souljah into the category of "urban fiction" simply because "The Coldest Winter Ever" is SUCH a staple in that genre of literature. But what I've realized through the Midnight series, and now through Porsche's story is that Souljah is taking her readers away from "the hood" where it all began with the Santiaga family, and expanding our minds and experiences through different locales and cultural experiences.

Midnight was in Brooklyn for a good portion of his stories, however he also journeyed to Japan, and Korea, and allowed us to become heavily embedded in the practices and beliefs of Islam. There was nothing inherently "urban" or "hood" about Midnight other than his place of residence, and street smarts/awareness. Likewise, the story of Porsche takes us out of the neighbourhood, and into a juvenile detention centre. And to a Native reserve. The environments are different, and force us to understand and adapt to other cultures.

The "hood" and "urban" factor in these stories has now almost become an oversight, or a minor technicality. These characters are put in situations that challenge their own ideologies, and as a result, bring the reader along for their life lessons. What I like about this approach is that the character (and the reader as a result) is forced to adapt to different cultures, and adjust their own views and values in accordance with a bigger picture.

The codes of the street, or the culture, or the family are no longer enough ammunition to interact with and navigate situations. The rules of Brooklyn may not hold any weight in the detention centre, or any other centre. What I love about Porsche Santiaga is that she is the family member that was challenged to adapt to a new environment, and this is where she came of age.

Porsche. I expected her to be a snob, like Winter. I expected her to be vain, like her mother Lana. I expected her to love money, and power, and luxury, and have her way with men, and be everything that a ghetto princess would be. Like her family influences pre-determined. Due to truly unfortunate circumstances, arrests, and court-ordered separations of her family members, it was almost a saving grace that Porsche was forced into foster care, exiled into detention, and left with no choice but to raise herself, and create her own method of understanding and dealing with the world.

This was a sad story! Really sad. Because here was an abandoned little girl that really and truly did nothing to deserve the horrific circumstances and ill treatment that she received. She was forced to grow up quickly, and at times you forget that the narrator is a child...instead she comes across as a grown woman with years of wisdom and worldly knowledge. But she's a child, and she's tough as ever as a result of her environment.

Self-preservation. Throughout the entire story, Porsche is fighting. Fighting for her sanity. For her independence. For control. For understanding. She is fighting to stay alive, and her only desire is to be held by her mother, to take care of the twins, and to be in the company of Winter and her father Ricky again.

But she's alone, and her family is nowhere to be found. In fact, despite her love and longing, it is near impossible for Porsche to get in contact with them. This entire book is about Porsche's desire to reunite with her family, and be loved. Genuinely.

While in detention, Porsche obtains a great number of skills that aid in the development of her character. Never once does she rely on her beauty or talents to get by, unlike her sister Winter. Even without any particular efforts in formal education, her survival skills allow her to grow into a financially savvy business woman, her pride makes her work hard for everything she earns, and creatively plot to gain more money at all times.

She has an eating disorder, but the contradiction with the pain she is instilling on her body is that she is also a graceful dancer, built strong, and confident in her movements. This provides an interesting paradox in the book because she clings to her dancing for strength, yet often does not have the strength to do much else, collapsing regularly as a result.

Friendships gained by Porsche are rooted heavily in loyalty and awareness. Porsche only befriends those she can trust, those who can help her, and those to which she also have benefit in their lives. As her character makes these choices, it is evident that she is not playing by codes of the street, as her family once did. She is determined to build a system of support that will also help her reach her goals of uniting with her people.

There's Riot, and Suri, The Diamond Needles, and the Gutter Girls. Now I'm a fool for not realizing until the end that Suri was a manifestation of her imagination, and possible sign of her schizophrenia, but because we are so heavily rooted in her thought processes and actions, even Suri is believable, a necessary addition to the plot, and also accepted/welcomed by not only the reader, but also those closest to Porsche in the story.

The writing in this book is so detailed that no character element is left unturned. We understand the poor circumstances of the girls in the detention centre, and are able to root for the eventual success and liberation of each of these girls, despite their violence, their manipulation, and their erratic behaviours. We understand them, because the author allows us to realize that they are a product of their environments, but really and truly just fighting for their lives.

I love Sister Souljah's ability to bring you RIGHT in the location along with the characters. Walking the straight lines, on the right, at the detention centre. The girls' eventual escape and the gruesome circumstances of this risk. The beauty of the Native reserve where they find shelter and solace after their escape. The terror of the crack houses back in New York City...

The emotions created are also developed strongly as we also feel the love that Porsche has and the desperation in which she longs to be with her family. We feel the building of loyalty and friendships from the beginning, and how the young girls stay true to their promises and act with dignity and strength when it comes to supporting one another.

The emotion that is the strongest and most powerful, to the point where it's almost too painful to bear, is the love and dedication that Porsche has towards her mother, Lana. After returning to New York and discovering that she has an addition...Porsche's life continues to centre around nursing her mother back to health, and making plans to reunite her family. She desperately clings to this possibility, and it is the driving force behind all that she does, and sacrifices.

Sadly, Momma don't care about much. Winter hasn't reached out to find her. She has difficulty getting in touch with her father and the twins, since she is on the run. It is an unfortunate circumstance, to say the least, but yet the strength of this love is the essence of Porsche's journey. Unlike Winter, it's not a love for herself, instead it is an unconditional love and hope for the well being of her family members.

I love love love who Porsche becomes, as a result of this journey. She has every right to develop into a bitter, pessimistic, angry, and hurtful individual, but the opposite happens and she grows into a pure hearted and selfless woman that is able to find authentic love, build a career, and finances, and a comfortable and safe environment for herself all without compromising her dignity or family values.

After escaping from the detention centre, and spending time on the Native reserve under the guidance of  NanaAnna, we really see the nurturing and skills that will help Porsche to become such a woman. She learns to cook, is familiar with nature, and yet still maintains her hard-working spirit and stubbornness to make and earn her own wages and way.

By the time she meets Elisha, despite being afraid to fully love him, she can't help but be a kind-hearted friend, and eventual wife to this ambitious artist.

While her mother passes away, she is able to reconnect with her father and with Winter, and it seems almost anti-climactic because Winter is still a bit of a selfish bitch, and her father is still locked away for life without much contribution to her daily living. Yet she still cares for them, and still has an undying love for them.

The greatest triumph is that she is able to reunite with her twin sisters, who are now under the guidance of Midnight. The story telling is so complete, that with this piece of information, you can only imagine what their journey was like...yet know enough about Midnight as a man, that you trust that they have been well taken care of.

It's like a love and interest that will never end, the saga that is the Santiaga story. And while each story is complete in and of itself, there are still so many anxious questions that you can't help but wonder. For example: how did Midnight transition after his return from Japan with his wives Akemi and Chiasa, to now being the guardian of two young girls? Who is Midnight's 3rd wife, as mentioned? How did the twins adjust to life, after their father's capture? What will become of Winter, after she is released from prison?

Even after the book was complete, I love that while Porsche's story is complete, the tales of this family could be indefinite. While visiting Toronto in May, an audience member asked Sister Souljah if she would stray away from this network of characters and develop a new saga, and her response was simple: why? She basically stated that there were so many branches and elements of this network, that she could write so many more stories as a result.

I agree.

Sister Souljah has challenged me into thinking about the depth of my own story-telling, and the level I go to to understand the characters and their journey. Each of her characters has such a unique and complicated story, that makes their actions and circumstances so real and justified. You never have to second-guess their authenticity, or wonder what they stand for, this is always extremely evident as a result of their life experience.

After reading this book, I believe the story of Porsche is complete. Not because I don't think she'll have numerous adventures and worthy incidents in her life worth writing about...but I trust her character, I trust her judgement, and I know that she'll be OK in the end. I closed this book satisfied with the woman she had become, and satisfied with how this stage of her her journey ended.

She becomes a professional dancer, and is able to support the type of lifestyle and her mother, Lana, and her sister, Winter, never had the intelligence to create for themselves. While they had the street smarts and the looks, they still didn't have the independence to create their own lives. That is why Lana met her demise, and became a victim of her drug addiction. That is why Winter, even while locked up, is still cold-hearted, and still a selfish girl.

Sister Souljah's books have provided me with such insight! She has transcended being an "urban fiction" writer, and is a novelist in every sense of the word. She creates worlds, educates, teaches life lessons, allows you to travel, and gives her readers invaluable lessons about life through character osmosis.

I closed this book feeling satisfied, and feel inspired. "A Deeper Love Inside" was such a powerful example of what a story should be. Empowering. Emotional. Thorough. Filled with escapism. Unpredictable. Liberating.

I've said this many times, and will say it again, Sister Souljah is the type of writer that makes me want to be a BETTER writer, simply because of the feeling of her words and the ease in which I'm able to read and digest them. And think about the characters still, days, and weeks later!

As usual, I look forward to reading the next part in the Santiaga saga, and continued the exploration of this family and their activities. This was yet another TRUE story from Sister Souljah, where the feelings and lessons were so universal that you can't walk away without being changed, by the end of the journey.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

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