The Names of All the Flowers

Feminist. Jul. 2020. 296p. ISBN 9781936932856. pap. $17.95. MEMOIR
At 18, Junior Valentine was in prison. At 19, a week after his release, he was dead, a victim of gang violence. Behind those two bare statements is the story of a complex family and a young life cut short by societal failures on multiple levels. To memorialize her late brother, Valentine plunges into their shared history, poetically recounting their lives as children of a white father and Black mother in 1990s Oakland. While the specific events of her brother’s incarceration and death only occur in the last two-thirds of the text, Junior’s fate reverberates throughout, for as their adolescence nears Valentine gains an increasing awareness of the entrenched prejudices against and dangers for Black youth, and the text becomes a meditation on racism and the cultural systems that enable the deaths of young Black men.
VERDICT An elegantly written and heartbreaking reflection on family, sibling love, and personal and racial grief. Those seeking to understand the impact of the school-to-prison link will learn much, while those who have experienced its effects will likely find plenty here that resonates.

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