Amistad: HarperCollins. May 2024. 352p. ISBN 9780063338654. $28. F
DEBUT Richards’s fictionalized biography focuses on the tumultuous and triumphant early life of jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald. Before she becomes famous, Ella is a girl from Brooklyn who just wants to dance. That dream almost comes to a screeching halt when her mother dies while Ella is still a teenager, causing Ella to move in with her aunt in Harlem. This is during the rise of the Harlem Renaissance, and Ella is soon surrounded by jazz and dance and swing. However, even here, she encounters forces that seek to confine her to a circumscribed life. As Ella fights for all that she holds dear, she is given one chance—one night—to rise to the occasion and grab her dream. Focusing exclusively on Fitzgerald’s teenage years, Richards, the executive director of the Harlem Writers Guild, shows the sheer determination and fortitude that the young future star had to marshal as she pushed to reach her goal. The world was infinitely stacked against her, and yet, time and again, readers see young Ella scrap and fight to live, and change, her life.
VERDICT Those who enjoy jazz and swing music and fictionalized biographies will be interested.
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