Celeste’s Harlem Renaissance

Written by Eleanora E. Tate
Review by Mary K. Bird-Guilliams

This is a charming book best suited for about the 10 to 15 age range, but quite entertaining and informative for adults regarding the daily life of African Americans during the 1920s all along the East Coast. In New York, emerging artists of all kinds were generating creative power that would come to be called the Harlem Renaissance. In the Carolinas, where much of this story takes place, the opportunities were more limited, but here also the separation of white and black society was fostering some financial and personal success in this American apartheid for the black population. Very few aspects of the “other half” enter into this story. So that both may learn, that is an effective style for readers of both African American and Caucasian descent. There are enough historical racial incidents to keep the story realistic, so use discretion for younger readers. The author does extensive research for her books, the highlights of which are included in an author’s note following the narrative.

Against all this lush background is the account of a young girl’s hastened entry into adulthood and her decisions about her future. When Celeste’s remaining parent becomes ill, her life with an aunt of the crabby and bossy variety promises to be unbearable. Instead, she travels to New York to be with her mother’s sister, who is believed to be a stage star. Val meets Celeste on arrival and they go right to the theater—to scrub floors because Val has lost her position. Life in New York means working hard to make ends meet, but it also means meeting Duke Ellington and the editor of the Brownies Book, her favorite magazine. An enjoyable history lesson.