Youngblood's debut novel is near equal parts beautiful and disturbing. Her prose is lyrical and gut-wrenching in this coming of age story of a spirited seven year old Mariah Santos. She's intensely attached to her military nurse mother in Kansas when her life is turned upside down and her mom abruptly takes her to Georgia, leaving her with two older aunts. Mariah, as any child would under the circumstances, has a long, hard adjustment to her new surroundings. Her aunts have very strict rules including Sunday church attendance and not playing with the "project" children across the railroad tracks. While she still live a comfy life, she aches for her mother's touch and the special words she would give her each day. She finds solace in a schoolmate with whom she shares her first kiss then in the cello that her Aunt Faith gives to her. Her bourgeoning young adulthood is spent exploring her sexuality and trying to connect with the father, in L.A., she has only known through the creative stories told by her mother. This relationship does not live up to her expectations as her father, Matisse, can only seem to append to Mariah via the lingering feelings for her mother and is otherwise distant. What feels as almost inevitable brings her back to Georgia and ready to accept the quiet love present in the "big white house".
Shay Youngblood has written this novel with so much passion and honesty that it brims over in its intensity. This is not your typical coming of age tale filled with ubiquitous, inexplicable teen angst. Instead, Mariah Santos is a young female character unlike any I've encountered in this genre. Her story is erotic, elicit, and enchanting. It nearly rocked my ideas of parent-child dynamics to the foundation. Absolutely a must read.