I voted in our city-wide primary election today. When I arrived at my polling place, I was greeted by five enthusiastic poll workers—and exactly zero other voters. Sure, it's just a primary for a municipal election, but I can't say I was filled with hope for the future of our fair metropolis.
More often than not, politics leave me feeling hopeless and sad. I vote, and I'll continue to because I value the privilege, but because my personal political views don't align with the majority in my state, I usually feel like my dissenting voice is completely drowned out. But I'll keep showing up, keep voting for people who support libraries and schools, because it feels irresponsible not to.
Ivoe Williams, the hard-headed protagonist of Barnett's new novel, doesn't let a little opposition get her down, even though she has much more to deal with than a few city councilmen who don't support public libraries. As an African-American woman with dreams of becoming a newspaper reporter around the time of World War I, to say Ivoe faces an uphill battle is a massive understatement. But instead of wringing her hands, she gets to work.
Barnett visits Ivoe at various points of her life spanning a number of years, from her childhood in rural Texas to her middle-age trip to Paris with her lover, Ona. Ivoe encounters setback after setback, and at times it appears even to her that she'll never achieve her professional goals, but she has a close-knit family that supports and encourages her as well as plenty of journalistic skills. I loved her conviction in the face of the staggering racism of Jim Crow America.
I always appreciate books that fill the holes in my education, and I knew embarrassingly little about what life was like for African Americans in the years between emancipation and the Civil Rights era. Jam on the Vine provides a well-researched and emotionally charged window into that part of our nation's history. To add historical weight, Barnett mentions in her author's note that many of the news articles Ivoe writes in the novel are in fact taken from real articles published at the time. My inner word nerd went wild at that.
If you enjoy historical novels, this one should definitely be on your list. Ivoe's determination to expose injustice made me want to stand up and cheer.