Caul Baby

HarperAudio. Apr. 2021. 10:53 hrs. ISBN 9781799957027. $39.99. F
In her fiction debut, Jerkins (Wandering in Strange Lands) weaves elements of magical realism into a multigenerational saga that explores subjects like Black identity, generational trauma, overpolicing, and gentrification. The enigmatic Melacons are a powerful, three-generation family of Harlem women living in a gentrifying neighborhood. They’re able to maintain their brownstone, when so many others have been priced out of the neighborhood, because of their magical birthright as caul bearers. The women were born with a translucent layer of skin that has special powers, and they sell fragments of their caul, mostly to wealthy white people, for healing and protection. When the Melancons refuse to help a Black neighbor who hoped to protect herself against another miscarriage, long-time Harlemites turn on the family. This especially bothers Hallow, the youngest Melacon and the future of the empire, as she becomes more involved in the community by volunteering at a doula center. Narrator Joniece Abbott-Pratt’s melodic voice and distinct characterizations help guide listeners though this ambitious novel, as the action flows swiftly between characters and issues until it reaches its powerful conclusion.
VERDICT Abbott-Pratt’s empathetic tone and measured delivery are a perfect match for Jerkins’s engaging novel, with morally ambiguous characters and thoughtful explorations of complex contemporary issues--none of which have easy solutions.
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