For more than twenty years, Neena has been searching for her
absent, mentally ill mother, Freeda. Freeda's last
appearance is the night of her sixteenth birthday when she
climbed into the window of her daughters' bedroom where they
live with her mother, Nan. Nan is a stern but loving grandmother
to Tish and Neena. Over the years, she takes them in when
Freeda's wandering mind takes her on a journey, abandoning her
young daughters to fend for selves. Yet, whenever she returns,
Neena is happy and can't get past her yearnings for her mother's
love that she knew as a little girl. Tish longs for stability,
often frightened, afraid and prefers the security of her
Nan knows this and it causes a huge divide between the two of
them. She never seems to be able to love Neena, the rebellious
grandchild, the way that she loves Tish, the agreeable one.
Neena feels she can never do right in her grandmother's eyes.
She is Freeda's girl and Nan, who never forgave herself for not
being able to save Freeda from her demons, sees all that she has
lost in Freeda, in Neena.
In her recently released novel, Trading Dreams At Midnight,
acclaimed author Diane McKinney-Whetstone brings us a hauntingly
beautiful story of mothers and daughters, love and pain. The
author threads issues of mental illness, alcoholism, broken
marriages, prejudice, racism, and neighborhood gentrification
throughout her novel. Although at times soft, it is still a
hard-hitting, bittersweet novel about a family of black women
who stand tough as times get tougher.
Nan also has demons to live with. As a young, lonely, single
woman, Nan is so taken by the handsome, sweet talking Albert
that she resorts to less than honorable ways to trap him. A
working alcoholic in bad health, Alfred is more than a handful
but Nan loves him enough to stand by him. After Freeda's birth,
Alfred is in and out of sobriety over the years yet they manage
to stay together as a family. Freeda is a Daddy's girl and the
apple of his eye. Nan thought that all of her dreams had come
true. As Freeda gets older, however, Nan sees that her sweet
child is less than perfect. For years, Nan refuses to face the
realities of her daughter's dark side. Then as a rude awakening,
Nan believes that her sins are re-visited in her child. When the
marriage falls apart, so does Freeda. It becomes clear that she
has mental problems but Nan's help comes too late. When Freeda
gives birth to Neena and Tish, Nan sets out to save the girls,
hoping that her grandchildren will elude the fate that befell
Unlike Tish, Neena cannot stop longing for her mother. She drops
out of college and leaves Philadelphia for Cleveland, the last
place that Freeda had been spotted. Neena finds herself forced
to run scams against her married lovers in order to support her
search and to live the good life. Finding herself in danger
after one of her scams goes bad, she returns to Philadelphia
with only the clothes on her back and plans to stay with Tish
until she can get on her feet again.
Tish is now happily married and doing very well as a local
television anchorwoman. There is a problem, however; Tish is in
the hospital threatening a miscarriage of her fetus.
Neena is broke, scared and desperate. She cannot depend on Tish
or face her grandmother who she ran away from long ago. She is
frightened that she really cannot come back home.
How McKinney-Whetstone brings Tish, Nan and Neena together is
rich in emotion and beauty and not to be missed.
McKinney-Whetstone's lyrical prose is her trademark. Her
secondary characters are just as carefully drawn as her main
characters and help carry the story. Her description of
Philadelphia in the late 1990s is most familiar to this reviewer
who grew up in the City of Brotherly Love.
The author writes novels that never need a sequel. They are so
complete you know that all is well with the characters that you
have come to love. This latest offering is no different. Her
loyal readers will not be disappointed. Dianne
McKinney-Whetstone pens yet another African American literary