Book Review: Chocolate Sangria: A Novel (Strivers Row)
Book Reviewed by Thumper
Reviewed by Thumper for AALBC.com
I read Tracy Price-Thompson's first book, Black Coffee, last year. I loved it
and wrote a glowing review for it. Before we could publish it, my computer
crashed. While I managed to recover 70% of the reviews, I forever lost the
review for Black Coffee. I learned one valuable lesson and established one goal.
The valuable lesson: never underestimate the importance of a floppy back up disk
ever again. The goal: above all else, make sure that the review of Tracy
Price-Thompson's next novel, Chocolate Sangria, is published.
Following the success of Black Coffee, Tracy Price-Thompson hits the scene with Chocolate Sangria, a novel that explores friendships, secrets, lies, betrayals, and features a romance that crosses racial and cultural boundaries. Chocolate Sangria is a quick-moving, engaging book that I highly enjoyed and finished feeling completely satisfied.
Juanita Lucas and Socrates Morrison, a.k.a. Scooter, have forged a strong bond of friendship having grown up in the same neighborhood. Both were treated as misfits: Juanita because of her light skin and emerald green eyes; and Scooter due to the violent demise of his parents, and his homosexuality. During a morning bus ride to work, Juanita and Scooter encounter two Puerto Rican men, Conan and Jorge. The four characters lives are soon interwoven in an entanglement that will change their lives forever.
When I read the summary of Chocolate Sangria, I thought, "Oh, no! Not another novel featuring 20-something year old, common-sense challenged characters, with a little "tragic mulatto" thang thrown into the story for good measure." I almost yawned at the prospect. Been there, done that, and got therapy for it. A couple of pages into the novel, I knew I had jumped and landed on the wrong conclusion.
The characters are solid and deliciously complicated. Juanita wrestles with confusion over her identity and self esteem. She longs deeply for any degree of community acceptance as a black woman. Watching Juanita battle her inner demons was moving and heartrending. Her unhappiness was nearly tangible. In contrast, Scooter was confident and a strong sense of self. His desire for romance and true love were sad to witness, as is watching a heart in the process of breaking. Juanita and Scooter were flawed, human and lovable. I couldn't help but empathize with them and cheer for them.
Thompson went above and beyond the call in her invention of Jorge. Jorge is memorable, vicious, apathetic, pained, sympathetic and simply fascinating. I was torn between wanting to comfort Jorge, and wanting to reach all the way back to last Tuesday with my right hand to whack him over the head a couple of times. He is a complex character that stands as Thompson's best creation to date.
Chocolate Sangria is a gem of a book. Thompson's voice is strong and sure. Her narrative and layout of the novel are sharp. She makes no missteps in style or construction. The story unfolded as an enticing tale of human frailty and strength, with enough meat and reality to make it compelling.
Chocolate Sangria is storytelling at its best. Once I started reading the novel, I couldn't put it down, and didn't want to. Thompson is developing into a wonderful author, rapidly joining my list of literary favorites.