Monday, April 26, 2021

The Secret Live of Church Ladies - Deesha Philyaw narrated by Janina Edwards

Summary: The Secret Lives of Church Ladies explores the raw and tender places where black women and girls dare to follow their desires and pursue a momentary reprieve from being good. The nine stories in this collection feature four generations of characters grappling with who they want to be in the world, caught as they are between the church's double standards and their own needs and passions. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: Maybe you’re not a person who loves gossip, or maybe you are? Ideally, we try to keep ourselves out of gossiping, right? We don’t want to be that person that nobody can trust with any kind of information. We want to be good friends, right? Not betray our people? Well, what if you were able to hear the gossip of a certain group of people in a way where you weren’t blamed and could just enjoy it for what it was? I’m happy to report that this delightful little book does just that. It’s delicious, really. A guilty pleasure that not only gives you the opportunity to learn the best gossip around, but also to understand the women behind it. Why they do what they do. Or maybe not, but how they justify it, at least. I listened to the audiobook version of this book, and let me tell you, it was awesome. The narrator, Janina Edwards, has a beautiful, rich voice that is emotive and soothing. I loved listening to it. My only complaint is that I wished there had been a little bit longer pauses in between each chapter and a more definitive reading of the title of the chapter, as this is key. Each section is a different story about another Black woman, and there were a few times when I felt like I wasn’t sure it had switched or not. This is no fault of the author or narrator, and I understand that this was a choice made by the publisher.

This book is, as is discussed in the summary, like you had walked into a church congregation and someone on the inside, someone very well-connected, was able to show you individuals who had a good story, and gave you the opportunity to live in their shoes and see a slice of their lives—their desires, their discretions, their choices. Some of them have very juicy lives indeed! I loved the wide variety of stories and characters in this book. I think that women are so easily categorized by people to be this way or that way, and similarities are exploited into making it seem like women all have the same motivations for doing something. This is not the case, and I loved that this book not only explored the complexity of women and their desires and stories, but also gave voice to Black women who are often faced with different circumstances, opportunities, and judgments than women of another race. As I feel like I’ve preached before, understanding someone is so much easier if you see them close up. It’s also harder to pass judgement or even hate someone close up. If we are able to relate, connect, and understand the motivations and choices that each person is given, it makes it so much easier to be sympathetic to them and more understanding of their choices. I really appreciated this book for that.

As with all collections of short stories, there are some stories I liked better than others, and some characters I liked better than others. That is to be expected. This book is so interesting—there really is something for everyone, and I loved the rich details and beautiful writing. The narration added to the experience of someone telling you about the lives of each person, and I really enjoyed that as well. It added a personal touch and a depth to the stories. 

If you’re brave and your book club open-minded, this would be a great book club book. I will not be sharing it with my book club of church ladies. Ha! There is a lot to discuss and something for everyone. Plus, gossip is best shared, right? (I don’t gossip!) However, there are lots of topics that are not for sensitive readers—adultery, love scenes, languages, abuse.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language, sex, and abuse via neglect. I wouldn’t say it’s exploitive as much as just juicy.

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