‘I watched in awe as Miz Rosa stopped those men on the bus with her clear, calm “no” and I thought about that word. What if I said no? What if I refused to follow the path these White folks wanted for us? What if I kept this precious baby?‘
Montgomery, Alabama, 1955
On a cold December evening, Mattie Banks packs a suitcase and leaves her family home. Sixteen years old and pregnant, she has already made the mistake that will ruin her life and disgrace her widowed mother. Boarding the 2857 bus, she sits with her case on her lap, hoping that the driver will take her away from disaster. Instead, Mattie witnesses an act of bravery by a woman named Rosa Parks that changes everything. But as Mattie strives to turn her life around, the dangers that first led her to run are never far away. Forging a new life in a harsh world at constant risk of exposure, Mattie will need to fight to keep her baby safe.
Atlanta, Georgia, present day
Ashlee Turner is going home. Her relationship in ruins, her career held back by prejudice, she is returning to the family who have always been her rock. But Ashlee’s home is not the safe haven she remembers. Her beloved grandmother is dying and is determined to share her story before she leaves…
When Ashlee finds a stack of yellowing letters hidden in her nana’s closet, she can’t help the curiosity that compels her to read, and she uncovers an old secret that could wreak havoc on her already grieving family. As she tries to make sense of what she has learned, Ashlee faces a devastating choice: to protect her loved ones from the revelations, or honor her grandmother’s wishes and follow the path to the truth, no matter where it may lead.
What I Thought:
I originally picked up The Girl at the Back of the Bus because of the mention of Rosa Parks but it’s fascinating to read in this book not about Rosa herself, but about a life lived in bravery as a result witnessing that act of defiance.
This really is an excellent book. We jump back and forth between the stories of Mattie and her grand daughter Ashlee and it shows the reader that, although things are better for Ashlee than they were for her grandmother, there is still a long way to go before she can truly believe that she is treated equally.
The fact that an educated, young, black woman who works hard and does everything she’s supposed to do can get passed over time and again by a white man who is her intellectual inferior should, and does, induce anger but this part of the plot is used well to provide Ashlee with a turning point in her life. The inspiration of her Grandmother’s life and the discrimination she faced as a teenager in 1950s Alabama turns Ashlee in another direction and some of the best parts of the book are the scenes between Mattie and Ashlee and their family.
The detail in the historical sections is excellent, providing a real picture of Alabama and Georgia in the 1950s – including the absolutely baffling attitudes towards race and segregation. After being supported and protected as much as possible by her loving mother, at one point Mattie weeps about how it’s not fair – and her mother goes on to show her just how unfair their lives are. This is was a hugely powerful part of the book and stories like that are badly needed, and should be shared and read by all.
For such a powerful story, it’s resolved in an unexpectedly hopeful way, with the hope that Mattie’s experience that day on the same bus as Rosa Parks can having meaning for future generations.
The Girl at the Back of the Bus is published by Bookouture.
To find out more about Suzette D. Harrison and her work, you can check out her website.
This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the publication of The Girl at the Back of the Bus. Check out some of the other fantastic blogs taking part below.
Please note: I was given a copy of this book via Netgalley for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.