Being Plumville by Savannah J. Frierson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Being Plumville is a love story about two people who knew they were each other's happy endings from a very young age. But society and the stupid notions of color, race, and what should and shouldn't be done managed to stand in their way for fifteen and more years.
Savannah J. Frierson takes the reader back to the late 1960s in the South where there is hope of things changing, but a lot of blood, sweat and tears will be expended to make things better. This is a world in which skin color dictates many things: how much you get paid, where you live, what kind of job you are able to take, even how well you get treated by others. It doesn't matter what you want for yourself or for your children. It is just the way it is.
The opening scene tells me a lot about Benny and Ceelee. Benny is protective, caring and possessive of little Ceelee. Ceelee loves and trusts Benny. Benny declares that he's going to marry Ceelee. However, it is not acceptable that Benny should feel that way about Ceelee, because Ceelee is black, and Benny has expectations that he must meet for his family and for Plumville. White future state judges (sons of prominent Plumville citizenry) don't marry black daughters of their family's housekeepers. So, Patty was forced to keep her young daughter away from Benny.
Fifteen years later, both Benjamin Drummond and Coralee Simmons have yielded to the dictates of their world. They live in the same small town, but inhabit separate spheres, black separated by white. Until Ceelee is asked to tutor Benjamin in English, or he will not longer be eligible to play as quarterback for their college football team. Benjamin has fallen into the mold of white prominent young citizen. He even jokes along with his racist friends about blacks, even if his heart doesn't feel that way. Deep down, he yearns for his friend Ceelee, and is secretly glad that he can reestablish that crucial connection that was missing in his life for so many years. But now, Coralee keeps him at a distance. She doesn't trust him anymore. To her, he is another white person who thinks he's better than her, thinks he can insult her, and treat her like a second class citizen. Benjamin is determined to show Coralee that he is different from the others. That he is worthy of her trust and friendship, because the truth was, he never stopped loving her. Coralee has to find the courage to fight for the love that she feels (has felt for many years) beneath the hurt and fear.
This book was a wonderful read. It was also very difficult to read. It brought the anger and rage to the surface. Knowing that in the United States blacks were (and still are in some instances) treated this way because of some bizarre belief that skin color determines intelligence, eligibility, and superiority. I was born a short five years after this book takes place. My mother and father (both black) lived in this world of Ceelee and Benjamin, dealing with the same issues. It is a painful thought to accept that one's life is not your own. That you don't get the same choices as someone else because that's the way it is. That it's okay for them to call you ugly names, and you have to bite your tongue and deal with it. That you can't love who you want to love without being rejected by your own people, and subject to physical harm by his people.
Ms. Frierson didn't make up any of that angst. This book is real. I rooted for Ceelee and Benjamin, even as I knew the road they traveled was a long, hard, ugly one. I could feel their frustration when they weren't even able to hold hands or express affection towards each other in public. It was okay for Benjamin 'try the dark berry', but he couldn't love a black woman. For Coralee, she was condemned and ridiculed for even thinking it was okay to date a white man. It was a lot to take, making this far from a fun, escapist read. That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy or love this book. It was just a sobering experience for me, and sometimes I had to put this book down and regroup. I am glad I read this book, because I really appreciate Ms. Frierson's writing. Although painful at times, this gave me something to think about. It helps me to be grateful that I have the choices that Coralee didn't have back then, and not because I am smarter or more deserving than Coralee was. Although I have and will face prejudice for my skin color, my fate and my life is my own. I can love who I want, and if people don't like it, I have the safety and the ability to face that and not find my essential being damaged from it. I for one am grateful that people like Coralee and Benjamin and the real life Mr. and Mrs. Loving paved the way for interracial couples in the modern United States. People can say what they want, but their opinion doesn't legally amount to a hill of beans.
This was a moving, excellent book. It hurt my heart, but it also gave me hope that you can believe in love, even if it won't guarantee a perfect road ahead. But two is stronger than one. And love is worth fighting for.
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