A story set in Jim Crow-era South Carolina, Daughters of Jubilation is a novel equal parts magical and deeply real. In her realization of main character Evalene/Evvie, author Kara Lee Corthron has crafted a journey that provides a strong glimpse into what life in small town South Carolina was like for a Black teenage girl during the 1950s. With this in mind please note content warnings for hate speech, lynching, and rape throughout this tale.
Sixteen year old Evvie has a lot of concerns in life. She longs to go to college and become an astronomer but feels this is a dream that will never come to fruition. Her father is incarcerated and she can barely remember the last time she’s hugged him. She often has to take care of her young twin sisters and has a job watching a little white girl whose mother constantly reprimands her work across town. She’s noticing the relationships between her friends changing in ways she does not want to acknowledge while she’s also suddenly getting attention from a longtime crush. To top this all off, Evvie’s been dealing with powers her family calls “jubilation” since she was 14. These powers have recently gone in flux, surging and causing chaos each time she feels a strong emotion. One of these surges puts her in a very precarious situation at the beginning of the book where she saves a white family from a calamity that her powers cause after their racist interaction with her. The fall out from this situation not only has her lauded in the local newspaper as a hero but also brings an abuser she has no initial memory of to her doorstep. However, jubilation isn’t all trauma, when she begins dating her longtime crush, Clayton, her abilities provide them with literal rainbows and opportunities to connect with family on a deeper level.
This is a powerful story about the role of family in shaping our paths. In Daughters of Jubilation, Evvie’s mother talks about not wanting her daughter to go do a similar journey that she and her own mother have been through without giving any elaboration until Evvie has gone through perils of her own. This dynamic between Evvie, her mother, and grandmother — and even between Clayton and his father — is very relatable to the experiences of my friends and I, who have often been warned to do as our elders say, not as they do, without full knowledge of what they’ve actually done or what they’ve learned from these mistakes. This legacy of stumbling towards adulthood, mirrored by the legacy of racism in the South, permeates the book and leads to graphic and troubling fates for some of the most empathetic characters in this tale.
Read this book if you have a heart that can weather reading about the growing pains of Black teenagers across class in Jim Crow-era South Carolina coupled with reflection on what it would mean to have special abilities to survive this time.