THE STAR SIDE OF BIRD HILL

Naomi Jackson

Two sisters are suddenly sent from their home in Brooklyn to Barbados to live with their grandmother, in this stunning debut novel

This lyrical novel of community, betrayal, and love centers on an unforgettable matriarchal family in Barbados. Two sisters, ages ten and sixteen, are exiled from Brooklyn to Bird Hill in Barbados after their mother can no longer care for them. The young Phaedra and her older sister, Dionne, live for the summer of 1989 with their grandmother Hyacinth, a midwife and practitioner of the local spiritual practice of obeah.

Dionne spends the summer in search of love,

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Two sisters are suddenly sent from their home in Brooklyn to Barbados to live with their grandmother, in this stunning debut novel

This lyrical novel of community, betrayal, and love centers on an unforgettable matriarchal family in Barbados. Two sisters, ages ten and sixteen, are exiled from Brooklyn to Bird Hill in Barbados after their mother can no longer care for them. The young Phaedra and her older sister, Dionne, live for the summer of 1989 with their grandmother Hyacinth, a midwife and practitioner of the local spiritual practice of obeah.

Dionne spends the summer in search of love, testing her grandmother’s limits, and wanting to go home. Phaedra explores Bird Hill, where her family has lived for generations, accompanies her grandmother in her role as a midwife, and investigates their mother’s mysterious life.

This tautly paced coming-of-age story builds to a crisis when the father they barely know comes to Bird Hill to reclaim his daughters, and both Phaedra and Dionne must choose between the Brooklyn they once knew and loved or the Barbados of their family.

Jackson’s Barbados and her characters are singular, especially the wise Hyacinth and the heartbreaking young Phaedra, who is coming into her own as a young woman amid the tumult of her family.

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  • Penguin Press
  • Hardcover
  • June 2015
  • 304 Pages
  • 9781594205958

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$25.95

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About Naomi Jackson

Naomi Jackson was born and raised in Brooklyn by West Indian parents. She studied fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was awarded the Maytag Fellowship for Excellence in Fiction to complete her first novel, The Star Side of Bird Hill. Jackson traveled to South Africa on a Fulbright scholarship, where she received an MA in creative writing from the University of Cape Town. A graduate of Williams College, Jackson has had her work appear in literary journals and magazines in the United States and abroad.

Praise

“A bittersweet coming-of-age tale of heartbreak and loss…Jackson’s story becomes stronger and stronger as we get to know these characters. The themes she touches on—mental illness, immigration, motherhood, sexual awakening—are potent and deftly juggled, anchored in the vivid locale of Bird Hill yet universally relatable. Readers will be turning the pages to follow Phaedra and Dionne’s memorable journey.” Publishers Weekly

The writing is especially fine, with even minor characters benefiting from Jackson’s lyrical descriptions…[The Star Side of Bird Hill] recall[s] Toni Morrison’s Love.”—Library Journal (starred review)

Jackson has written a first novel full of heart and heartbreak, a novel about going home, about the ties that bind three generations of women across years and despite absence. It is a bittersweet lesson in learning to recognize love.—Ayana Mathis, author of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

“The Star Side of Bird Hill reads as if we’re let in on a sometimes wonderful, sometimes thrilling, sometimes terrible secret. It’s the unwritten history of women without men, of girls in conflict with themselves and the damage—and healing that can come from the same place: Family.

—Marlon James, author of A Brief History of Seven Killings

Discussion Questions

What is your impression of Bird Hill? How do Dionne and Phaedra adjust to their new home?

Why, in the first chapter, does Chris throw the rock at Phaedra’s head? How does it reflect their families’ different beliefs and upbringings?

Do you think that Dionne is justified in acting out against her grandmother? Why or why not? How would you have acted in her situation?

How do the sisters differ in their reactions to their father’s return? What is Hyacinth’s take on this development?

What happens during the parade between Dionne’s father and Jean? How does Dionne’s perception of her father change afterwards?

We see flashbacks to Dionne and Phaedra’s lives with Avril in Brooklyn. Discuss what is happening to Avril. What do you think they understood about Avril’s illness? How do their responsibilities change when they move in with Hyacinth?

What happened to Avril in Bird Hill? Discuss Avril’s relationship to Hyacinth.

“It wasn’t so much that Hyacinth wanted someone to lean on, because Hyacinth was more than capable of standing upright in the face of the most difficult things, even her husband’s death. Hyacinth just wanted to know that she could shift her weight to one side and it wouldn’t be just the air and the force of her will holding her up, but the support of her family too. Hyacinth thought life was not just easier, but sweeter with family by her side. That’s what she’d been raised up to believe, and what her heart told her was still true now. She wondered why she hadn’t been able to pass this truth on to her own daughter. She wanted to know whether and how her grandchildren might learn this for themselves.” (p. 115)

Discuss this passage. In what ways do the generations within this family struggle to understand one another? What is your experience with your own family?

Phaedra accompanies Hyacinth on her visits as a midwife and a practitioner of obeah. What do you think Phaedra takes away from these experiences?

Why do you think Hyacinth tells Dionne the story about Bertha (p. 281-286)?

How does Dionne and Phaedra’s relationship with their grandmother evolve over the course of the book? How does Hyacinth change?