Quick review for a somewhat quick read. I first started reading Virginia Hamilton’s books over 20 years ago, and if the author were still living today, I’d send her my gratitude on being a gateway for my love of reading (and I appreciated the brief bio and photo montage provided at the end of this book). My childhood library had several of her books, notably with the covers that were designed in the 70s and 80s (maybe a few that were a part of the 90s reissues). My first book from her was “The House of Dies Drear” and then I binge read the Justice and her Brothers series, among several of her works. So when I heard that Open Road Media had several of her books reissued, I jumped at the chance to peruse them. “Arilla Sun Down” was one of the books of Hamilton’s that I didn’t read when I was younger, so this experience was completely new to me. The book was based on Hamilton noting her own family’s multiracial background and using it as inspiration to write Arilla’s story.
Arilla is a biracial girl (African American and Native) who struggles with her identity, with reconciling her past from the present, from finding a place to fit in among her family that seems to have its external divisions as well as internal. I identified with Arilla, because she seems to be the odd girl out in a family of distinct identities and talents, while she struggles to find her own way. It’s an apt coming of age story that has Arilla not just looking at the way things have changed from her pursuits and life as a child, but struggling to fit in against the shadow of her older brother Sun Run and his firm assertion of his identity – so much that she seems almost lost in its shadow and the shadow it casts around her family. Sun Run also appears to struggle with the way people perceive him because of his assertion of identity – in which (at first) he seems to shun one part of it and accept the other to the point of complete immersion (his Native lineage). The narrative paints a nice portrait of Arilla and Sun Run’s relationship, sometimes with love and others with unspoken tensions. I was particularly struck by how well this book called out several racial stereotypes and the struggle between internal and external perceptions of identity.
“Arilla Sun Down” isn’t a perfect narrative (for the record, there were times the narrative lost me with the jumping timeline, and the narrative presentation is at times jagged and abrupt when it comes to transitions in the narrative). However, I found the voices of the characters were distinct and realistic for how the narrative portrayed them. Arilla can be rebellious and struggle to assert herself but at the same time she’s loyal and when the moment counts most, she’s willing to help those she loves.
Overall score: 3.5/5 stars.
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher.