After six years in prison, a woman victimized by the system and her loved ones seeks retribution in Smith’s (Behind Closed Doors, 2015) searing drama.
Dana Toussaint’s father, Bernard, may be a drug dealer, but he provides well for his family in 1980s East St. Louis. When he wants out of the business, though, Dana’s mother, Diana, forces him out of the house. Twelve-year-old Dana, her mother, and her three younger siblings move to an apartment in the projects, and Diana, accustomed to having money, does the unthinkable by pimping Dana out to the perverse Mr. James on a regular basis. Years later, the cocaine-addicted teenager becomes a stripper, but she manages to finally escape Mr. James thanks to Tyree, whom an incarcerated Bernard sent to help her. After thugs brutally murder Dana’s friend Ja’El and most of Ja’El’s family, she decides to get out of East St. Louis by attending Gretna State University. She hasn’t left her old life behind, however, as she transports drugs across state lines for Tyree. Unfortunately, someone’s deception results in Dana’s arrest and imprisonment. Six years inside gives her time to compile a mental list of revenge targets, from her mother and Mr. James to Ja’El’s killers. This thoroughly engaging novel boasts a protagonist whose vengeance is justified; the reprehensible Mr. James, for example, is a pedophilic heroin dealer. Smith’s voice is both sturdy and elegant, delivering blunt, edgy prose that’s never lurid; she makes it clear what happens to Ja’El, for example, without providing graphic details. Dana’s college roommate Alex, a character from Smith’s previous series installment (in which Dana likewise appeared), provides occasional perspective. These moments offer a fascinating alternate view of the protagonist, but they can be jarring when they stray too far from the main story, particularly during Alex’s romance with another character. The somber plot isn’t without a wry sense of humor, though, as when a sardonic Dana notes that she’s “a magnet for men in the drug dealing profession.”
An uncompromising but profound urban tale from an incisive author.