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Marianne’s Pick of the Week: Acts of Forgiveness by Maura Cheeks

Acts of Forgiveness book cover

Stories of genealogy and reparations are not my typical cups of tea. But in Maura’s Cheeks’ debut novel, Acts of Forgiveness we encounter not only a challenging subject, but an engrossing family drama.  

Our main character, Willie Revel, is the daughter of a stay-at-home, frustrated academic mother and an entrepreneur, construction-company founding father. Before we can understand Willie’s story, we must first meet her ancestors. Her grandfather is a veteran who can’t secure a GI-backed mortgage, unlike his white friends. Alongside Grandad, we can’t help but feel the awkwardness, confusion, and frustration of his encounter with the Veteran’s Administration. Next is Max, Willie’s father, who works tirelessly to provide financial security for his family through his self-created business and even moves the family to a predominately white neighborhood and enrolls Willie and her brother in an elite private school to show the world how he has “moved up.”  

We follow Willie’s struggles as one of the few Black students from elementary school through college. Her fortunes change after graduation, when she goes into journalism, then change again when she’s called home to take over the family construction business. When the government passes legislation paying reparations to Black families who can prove their ancestors were enslaved, Willie sets out to uncover more of her family’s history. 

To receive the reparations payment families must prove their ancestors were enslaved. Willie travels South to uncover more of her family’s history. As she discovers family secrets, she learns how her family became successful despite the obstacles thrown in their paths.  

Along with Willie, we experience the costs that come with not knowing your roots and the toll racism places on the soul. Willie experiences slight after slight; each experience building upon the last. You’ll be drawn into contemplating how history shapes who we become and how our actions today can directly affect our descendants’ futures. Cheeks interweaves themes of forgiveness, resentment, and legacy throughout the story.  We are left to consider what legacy means and how we want to be remembered.  Does understanding your family ultimately help you understand yourself?  

If you enjoyed Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson or the Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, you will want to read this one.

Maura Cheeks photo

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Categories: Books and More

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