Next up to be accessorized is Frying Plantain, by Zalika Reid-Benta, which has been one of CanLit’s most buzzed-about titles of the summer. We scoped out the stock at Toronto-based online accessory boutique Inner Muse to find gorgeous items that complement the book both in theme and aesthetic.
“[FRYING PLANTAIN] IS AN UNFORGETTABLE DEBUT.” — PAUL BEATTY, BOOKER PRIZE–WINNING AUTHOR OF THE SELLOUT
Pairing well with the book’s red and yellow cover, I also think that Kara would like the look she catches of herself in these earrings as she’s trying on lipstick in the mirror at Shopper’s Drug Mart.
The bright colours in this bracelet conjure Kara’s Jamaican heritage, and make for a fun and playful accessory.
Based on Rosemonde Gerard’s 19th century French poem, this necklace is stamped with the French sentiment “+ qu’hier – que demain”. It is a symbol of growing love which translates from the poem’s French verse meaning “I love you more than yesterday and less than tomorrow,” and signifies the strong but complicated bond that resides between Kara and her mother.
No less than Booker-winner Paul Beatty has called Zalika Reid-Benta’s FRYING PLANTAIN “an unforgettable debut.” This coming-of-age story about a young girl growing up in Toronto has resonated with readers for its specificity of its experience, as well as the universal qualities. Learn more about the book here, and also in our Q&A with the author.
Briny Books: What’s the part of your book that you’re most proud of—the scene you can’t believe you pulled off, the part you most want to highlight, the passage you’d like to enclose in brackets with a note underlined: I WROTE THIS?
Zalika Reid-Benta: I don’t think I have that. I’m not trying to be humble, I am of course proud of my collection and proud of the stories I wrote and I am particularly proud of my dialogue. I love writing dialogue and I’m happy with how realistic people tell me it sounds, but I don’t think there’s a particular passage or story where I’m just blown away by my own work. I wish there was!
Briny Books: Was there a part of your narrative that surprised you as your book came together, suggesting that the author isn’t always completely in charge of her work and something deeper and weirder is going on?
Zalika Reid-Benta: Hmm, I think it’s more the responses I’ve gotten to a particular story—“Snow Day” — have consistently surprised me because I wrote it to capture a particular time in a girl’s life but I didn’t think it would resonate with so many women because they all had a version of those events happen to them. So far it seems to be a favourite and I just didn’t expect that.
Briny Books: Public readings (and learning to do them) are a big part of an author’s experience. But is there a part of your book that you know you’ll never have the nerve to read out loud?
Zalika Reid-Benta: I’ll never read any of the grandmother’s dialogue out loud because that requires a pitch perfect Jamaican accent, which I do not have!
Briny Books: What has been your favourite reader response to your book so far?
Zalika Reid-Benta: When readers can relate to the book and that comes in many forms. I feel it in my heart when readers of Jamaican and Caribbean descent freak out over the title because they understand what it means without any explanation, when they can relate to the experiences I’ve written because they can see the ‘dutchpot’ or hear the slang, hear the dialogue and just know exactly what Kara is going through.
On the other hand, it’s also been great listening to non-Caribbean readers relate to certain aspects of the book as well, like the cruelty of teenhood and friendship and the insecurity of growing up.
Briny Books: What book(s) is/are you reading at the moment?
Zalika Reid-Benta: Right now I’m actually not reading anything! I’m trying to get into my second project and I generally don’t read when I write.
We asked Zalika Reid-Benta, whose debut is the story collection Frying Plantain, to name three books she considers essential titles, the books that come to mind first when she’s asked to recommend an excellent read.
Bastard out of Carolina, by Dorothy Allison
The publication of Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina was a landmark event that won the author a National Book Award nomination and launched her into the literary spotlight. Critics have likened Allison to Harper Lee, naming her the first writer of her generation to dramatize the lives and language of poor whites in the South. Since its appearance, the novel has inspired an award-winning film and has been banned from libraries and classrooms, championed by fans, and defended by critics.
Greenville County, South Carolina, is a wild, lush place that is home to the Boatwright family—a tight-knit clan of rough-hewn, hard-drinking men who shoot up each other’s trucks, and indomitable women who get married young and age too quickly. At the heart of this story is Ruth Anne Boatwright, known simply as Bone, a bastard child who observes the world around her with a mercilessly keen perspective. When her stepfather Daddy Glen, “cold as death, mean as a snake,” becomes increasingly more vicious toward her, Bone finds herself caught in a family triangle that tests the loyalty of her mother, Anney—and leads to a final, harrowing encounter from which there can be no turning back.
The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl, prays every day for beauty. Mocked by other children for the dark skin, curly hair, and brown eyes that set her apart, she yearns for normalcy, for the blond hair and blue eyes that she believes will allow her to finally fit in. Yet as her dream grows more fervent, her life slowly starts to disintegrate in the face of adversity and strife. A powerful examination of our obsession with beauty and conformity, Toni Morrison’s virtuosic first novel asks powerful questions about race, class, and gender with the subtlety and grace that have always characterized her writing.
George & Rue, by George Elliott Clarke
By all accounts, the bludgeoning murder in 1949 of a taxi driver by brothers George and Rufus Hamilton was a slug-ugly” crime. George and Rue were hanged for it. Repelled and intrigued by his ancestral cousins’ deeds, George Elliott Clarke uncovered a story of violence, poverty and shame—a story that led first to the Governor General’s Award–winning Execution Poems and culminated in Clarke’s brilliant and darkly comic debut novel.
Named an editor’s choice by The Bookseller in the UK, George & Rue is a book about death that brims with fierce vitality and the sensual, rhythmic beauty that so often defines Clarke’s writing.