Blackbird Blues

Written by Jean K Carney
Review by Helen Piper

In her debut novel, Jean K. Carney chronicles the story of aspiring jazz singer Mary Kaye in Chicago during the 1960s. When Kaye’s mentor, Sister Michaeline, dies, Kaye meets jazz musician Lucius, Michaeline’s friend and father of an imprisoned son, Benny. He is the first person of color with whom Mary Kaye interacts in a non-superficial way. As they bond over their mutual loss, Kaye helps Lucius repair his relationship with his son. Lucius, in turn, helps Kaye by lending her the diary of Michaeline. The novel is set in two decades: the 1940s that is in Michaeline’s diary, and Kaye’s current 1963. The diary prompts Mary Kaye to make decisions about her own future and helps her decide on how to deal with an unexpected pregnancy.

The story covers difficult topics such as grief over death, abortion, and racial inequality, blanketed with the theme of jazz music. I found myself so inspired by the music that I created my own playlist featuring Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and John Coltrane.

Before becoming an author, Carney worked as a reporter covering the Children’s Court, City Hall and Roe v. Wade. She earned a degree in psychology and then worked as a psychologist for 30 years in Chicago. When reading her book, it becomes obvious that all these experiences enabled her to write an incredibly insightful and evocative coming-of-age story. Carney’s vivid and spellbinding descriptions of the characters made me feel as if I were there with them. I seldom cry when reading, but this book moved me so much that I did, especially when Carney pondered the question about not only what we owe ourselves, but also what we owe our children. The reading experience will stay with me for a long time. Highly recommended.