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Weekend Pick for June 10, 2022
Sometimes, when I am struggling with grief, what I need more than anything is someone to grieve with. I don’t necessarily need someone to understand my grief, but I want to grieve near someone who is also grieving. I want to be in a space where grief is accepted because it is known. I often look to novels with characters who are working through their grief to be my guides, even if the characters aren’t sure if or how they will make it through themselves. It feels like grieving together and that helps.
In Break This House by Candice Iloh, Yaminah’s mother has recently passed away, but she had been losing her for years before that. Trying for a fresh start, Yaminah and her father move to Brooklyn, away from Obsidian, Michigan. But when Yaminah finds out that they will be holding a memorial for her mother, she decides to go back to Michigan to be with family and sort through her feelings about her mother. The announcement for the memorial said that her mother died of cancer, but what Yaminah learns is that addiction took her mother, information that was kept from her before. That was why her mother changed long before her death, leaving her and her sister each night. That is why she became a different person
Yaminah struggles with the idea that no one in her family was really honest with her, shielding her from the truth, or just not talking about it. So, in a sense, she is grieving alone, even though she is surrounded by family. But her family is also grieving for something else. Her neighborhood is being purchased by outside developers, little by little. Her grandmother decided to sell her house to the developers, and this fact is just one facet of the larger grief of the community - losing their neighborhood to gentrification.
I see the loss of a mother to addiction and the loss of a community to gentrification as deeply interwoven in this novel. Iloh brings their characteristic depth and emotional acuity to Break This House, guiding the reader through Yaminah’s very personal grief as well as the collective but still not freely expressed grief of the larger community, so that the reader might move through grief with them.
Despite so much grief, the novel ends on a note that is necessary and uplifting. These two forms of grief need two different paths for healing. Acceptance and understanding for Yeminah, and action and communication for the community. Yaminah begins the healing process after months of running away, and the community takes action to save Yeminah’s grandmother’s house and more, working as a collective to improve all of their lives. We are witness to this interior and exterior transformation as Iloh allows Yaminah and the reader to move through grief together.