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A Matter of Souls
Whenever I review a book, I try to remind myself of my personal quirks as a reader. A major one I have is that it usually takes me approximately four-to-eight pages before I feel firmly oriented in a story. This is true regardless of the author’s skill; I don’t know why, but my brain just takes longer to situate itself within a new narrative. And this particular quirk can put me at a disadvantage when I’m reading short fiction. I admit all of this up front so that it’s clear that I’m not the ideal reader for Denise Lewis Patrick’s slim collection of short stories; however, it’s the universal theme of human connection, woven through each page that gave me a way into this book.
Each story in A Matter of Souls examines racism, identity, and humanity. Some of the stories, like “The Colored Waiting Room” use a specific situation—a young girl and her mother in a doctor’s office waiting room—to show the institutionalization of racism, and how a single voice can create create change with a big impact. “Son’s Story” is larger in scope, but ultimately about identity formation. The most unique story in the book, “The Season To Be Jolly” reads like a fairy tale (blended with the Twilight Zone). A young servant girl’s wish to belong is magically granted when, at the end of the story, she finds herself among a choir of black singers. Again the theme of identity is here, wrapped in the familiar beats of a fairy tale. This kind of stylistic playfulness stands out in a collection of mostly solemn storytelling.
Overall, the sentence-level writing is fine—descriptions are particularly vivid—but the emotions and messaging often hit too hard. It’s possible that with the abbreviated pacing of a short story, underlining the themes is necessary, but a bit more subtlety would have gone a long way, particularly in the titular and final story, “A Matter of Souls,” in which a man must consider his humanity on a slave ship.
In terms of its Printz chances, A Matter of Souls is definitely a longshot with only one star and little buzz, but Carolrhoda Lab has put out some very interesting, award-winning titles in the past few years. Keep this publisher on your radar as they have a great eye for literature that pushes the limits of what we expect from YA. But maybe you’re already a huge fan of Carolrhoda Lab? Or perhaps you’re just a huge champion of A Matter of Souls? Let us know in the comments!
About Joy Piedmont
Joy Piedmont is a librarian and technology integrator at LREI - Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School. Prior to becoming a librarian, Joy reviewed and reported for Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch. She reviews for SLJ and is the President of the Hudson Valley Library Association. When she’s not reading or writing about YA literature, she’s compulsively consuming culture of all kinds, learning to fly (on a trapeze), and taking naps with her cat, Oliver. Find her on Twitter @InquiringJoy, email her at joy dot piedmont at gmail dot com, or follow her on Tumblr. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, LREI, HVLA or any other initialisms with which she is affiliated.
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