The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus
Audre lives in Trinidad, but when her homophobic mom catches her with her girlfriend, she is sent to live in Minneapolis with her dad. Mabel lives in Minneapolis and is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Through a memoir from Afua, a Black man on death row, she connects to the spirituality of her ancestors and finds peace through astrology. Audre and Mabel meet and develop a bond which turns into romance.
Queer, contemporary, young adult
Trinidad. Sixteen-year-old Audre is despondent, having just found out she’s going to be sent to live in America with her father because her strictly religious mother caught her with her secret girlfriend, the pastor’s daughter. Audre’s grandmother Queenie (a former dancer who drives a white convertible Cadillac and who has a few secrets of her own) tries to reassure her granddaughter that she won’t lose her roots, not even in some place called Minneapolis. “America have dey spirits too, believe me,” she tells Audre.
Minneapolis. Sixteen-year-old Mabel is lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling and trying to figure out why she feels the way she feels–about her ex Terrell, about her girl Jada and that moment they had in the woods, and about the vague feeling of illness that’s plagued her all summer. Mabel’s reverie is cut short when her father announces that his best friend and his just-arrived-from-Trinidad daughter are coming for dinner.
Mabel quickly falls hard for Audre and is determined to take care of her as she tries to navigate an American high school. But their romance takes a turn when test results reveal exactly why Mabel has been feeling low-key sick all summer and suddenly it’s Audre who is caring for Mabel as she faces a deeply uncertain future.
Junauda Petrus’s debut brilliantly captures the distinctly lush and lyrical voices of Mabel and Audre as they conjure a love that is stronger than hatred, prison, and death and as vast as the blackness between the stars.
This was stunning. The writing, the plot, the characters, the cover - all were gorgeous. This book could be classified as a romance, but its themes extend beyond this. This is a book about spirituality, celestial connection, and choosing how to live your life even when you are being controlled by others, whether it be cancer or the prison industrial complex.
Afua believes when he is executed his spirit will become a part of the sky and stars, an integral part of the universe. Mabel finds comfort even if she doesn’t know what happens beyond death.
Even in doomed situations, the characters find connection and purpose in the short time they have. Sometimes you don’t achieve freedom or justice. But you can find freedom in refusing to let individuals or systems define you.
The story is mostly grounded in reality, yet there are moments where it takes on a fantastic, incorporeal state which blends perfectly with its themes. It lifts up and celebrates Black queerness, and is a spiritual resistance against a colonized and materialistic world. It’s the story of two lives brought together for a few months who find love, and it’s a story of connected people through the past, present, and future.
YA has a reputation of being less deep or meaningful than “true” literature. It all depends on the book, and this book is certainly far better than much adult literature I’ve read. Read it!