Title: Training School for Negro Girls
Author: Camille Acker
Genre: Fiction, Short Stories
“When you’re black and female in America, society’s rules were never meant to make you safe or free. Camille Acker’s relatable yet unexpected characters break down the walls of respectability politics, showing that the only way for black women to be free is to be themselves.”
This diverse compilation of short stories celebrates Black girls and women in America, highlighting their uniquities and their struggles. The heroines in the stories range in age and upbringing; however, they all live in the DC area (Acker’s hometown). The collection is divided into two parts: The Lower School (5 stories) and the Upper School (7 stories). Overall, the characters’ voices truly shine through in each story, their personalities and ages beautifully captured in Acker’s writing style. To avoid spoilers, I will keep my comments brief.
In Part 1, my favorite story was Strong Men (with Cicada as a close second). Strong Men was just so real. From the crab dinners to the interactions between the children and their parents, the story seemed like one’s memory rather than a fictional story. As Bit, the 13-year-old heroine, navigates a crush on an older boy while celebrating her brother’s high school graduation, her and the members of her family experience love, betrayal, and heartbreak.
I found The Ropes to be a particularly powerful story in Part 2 of the collection. This story follows Dawn, a fifth grade teacher and political enthusiast, as she balances challenges with her students during the final days of a pivotal local election. As a former fifth grade teacher at a low-income school, I found this piece to be undeniably relatable. I mean, I was Dawn’s BFF from the very first line: “Fifth graders were savages.” Hook, line, and sinker. The power in this story comes from a bold decision Dawn makes in the final moments, one I was shocked by, but then again, completely understood. I think this would be a great short story for teachers to read and discuss as a group. I feel it would lead to interesting discussions.
Overall, I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good short story. This collection includes many of them—ones you can go back to and read again and again.