Leaving Atlanta is a novel told in three distinct voices. LaTasha, Rodney, and Octavia are fifth grade classmates living in Atlanta during the time of the real-life child murders in 1980-81. The kids may be living under the same cloud of fear and dread, but Jones demonstrates with some amazing tonal shifts how different their experiences and feelings are.
I hadn't read much about the book before starting it, so when the book opens with Tasha's section, I expected the entire novel to center around her. And I would have been fine with that—a book about just Tasha would have been great. Jones relates her story in a close third-person, sensitively portraying her attempts at being cool, her fear and hurt at her parents' separation, her loving but typically bossy relationship with her little sister. I was surprised and a little disappointed at first when I turned the page and discovered the second part of the book wasn't about Tasha, but I was just as quickly enthralled by Rodney's story, and Octavia's after it.
And I have to mention that Rodney's section is the most effective use of second person narration I've ever seen. Jones is so smooth with it, I didn't even notice it was second person until I was several pages in. I generally like it when authors go with second person, but it's a choice that always draws attention to itself, like “Look at me, I've been to a writer's workshop!” In Jones's hands, though, it's more than a showy gimmick—it's a necessary aid to the narrative. Rodney, the most enigmatic character of the three, is instantly knowable thanks to the repeated “you, you, you.”
Even though I wasn't sold on the format at first, by the last page I was convinced the novel gets its power from the combination of all three children's voices. What could have been a singular story becomes universal when the overlapping stories are presented together.
Jones was a child herself in Atlanta during the time of the murders, and she expresses well the fear and uncertainty that kind of violence visited on the community. By the time the murders ended, at least 29 African-American children were dead. Most haunting of all, Jones explains in the author's note that though a person widely suspected to be responsible was jailed on other charges, many Atlanta residents believe the real murderer is still at large.