Genre: Realistic Fiction, Historical Fiction, Uplifting
“Marianna spent a lot of time doing her own thing on her own time, but when she turned 16, her parents gave her a surprise that would change the course of her life forever. Refusing to let her parents choose her destiny, she launched herself into the real world. Young, opinionated, naive, and strong-willed, Mariana makes friends, enemies, and quick decisions that set the stage for her life. One thing is certain. When Marianna chose to step out of her parents’ home, she stepped into her role as a woman; ready or not.
This fictional story is the first full-length novel in the Green Ivy Series, a series of short stories and novels written by, Kelli Green. If you’ve read, Elizabeth: A Short Story by Kelli Green, then you already know a few of the characters. This story takes place around the same timeline of, Elizabeth; but not to worry, reading Elizabeth only gave you a small peek into the world.”
I have also reviewed these other stories by Kelli Green:
Elizabeth: A Short Story (Green Ivy Series)
Last December, I read/reviewed “Elizabeth,” which is the first published piece of The Green Ivy Series. I was told by the author that this short story was taken from the same story line as what would be the first novel in the series: ‘May.’ I absolutely loved everything about “Elizabeth,” so I was super excited to hear that the full-length book it was from had finally been released.
Although the story contains sensitive content (such as racism, sexism, and rape/noncon, with racism being the most seen due to the historical setting), the author does not use graphic detail. It’s very clear that ‘May’ is meant to be wholesome rather than a story to horrify readers into understanding the extent of the evil that the characters (and real life persons) have endured. That being said, the author’s portrayal of these issues is enough to point out the terrible things which have happened and tug at her audience’s heartstrings.
Set in a post-slavery, pre-equal rights era, ‘May’ follows the story of a young white woman (Marianna) as she ventures from her home to find her own freedom away from controlling parents who see her independent nature as nothing more than absolute disrespect and selfishness. I can relate heavily to this part of her story because I was also raised by a mother who controlled every detail of my life in an emotionally, if not always physically, abusive manner. I left home when I turned eighteen because, like with Marianna, my mom also tried to continue forcing the path of my life including who I was and was not to date/marry.
Marianna has always seen through the veil that the society she lives in has tried to cover her with. Even as a child, she not only notices the racist and sexist ideologies of those around her, she actively voices her views by calling others out on their flawed thoughts. She most easily makes friends with the Black people around her who are laid-back and genuine compared to the image-conscious and pompous white people she is supposed to get along with. This of course only further alienates her from the rest of her white peers and society overall, and even though she later attempts to fit in better for the sake of her loved ones, she is never willing to compromise with injustice.
When Elizabeth (a barely pubescent Black girl without family who has to work as a servant to provide for herself) from the short story is introduced, I’m not going to lie: I cried. Marianna and ‘Bethy’ quickly become not only friends, but sisters. Their interactions and relationship is utterly beautiful. They work together, laugh together, cry together, and even dream together.
‘May’ is filled with simple (and not so simple) moments of pure endearment in addition to scenarios of heartbreak and injustice that kept making me tear up. The author’s character development is brilliant. Outside of Marianna’s obvious oddball and fierce personality, readers are treated to a wide range of diverse characters with vastly varying mindsets and experiences.
Jon (a rich white man) is one of my favorites. While clearly anti-racist, very loving, and well-meaning, his experience shows how easy it is for those coming from a place of privilege (those who have not been personally mistreated) to become complacent and not fully realize the evils that others face. Hannah is another favorite. She is a Black woman whose line of thinking is basically that she should enjoy being forced into sex by her bosses because a) at least she gets pretty gifts out of it and b) there’s no escaping it. It’s grim and to some others, comes across as selfish since she places her own well-being in this terrible situation above how the other women are not (supposedly) okay with it like she is. But she’s just like everyone else: she’s only trying to survive.
The author has done an amazing job at crafting hero, villain, and those in between. I was really impressed that despite Marianna’s clearly advantageously wise mind, there were even situations from which she grew more understanding and mature. And most characters in the story are dynamic like that: they change and learn over the course of the book. I clung to every word of this story, hopeful of a better life for all the characters as well as afraid of the plethora of ways things could go wrong.
I wasn’t really sure towards the end how the story could conclude without a feeling of becoming bland for lack of conflict, but the author somehow managed to bring it all together in a perfect balance of real, continuing issues and a sense of overall peace. It is the way she makes the reader attach to every character that kept me in suspense of what would happen instead of being able to guess how it would all play out. The fight and pure humanity of ‘May’ is nothing short of inspiring. I can’t wait to see what happens in Kelli Green’s next story.
One last note: the largest social issue in the book is racism. However, ‘May’ also acknowledges sexism against women (from both males and females) with Marianna specifically challenging some of these thoughts in her typical logical and no-nonsense attitude. So the story is empowering on numerous accounts.
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~Sahreth ‘Baphy’ Bowden