My Audible-available quartet of novellas from Alyssa Cole comes to an (almost) close today with “Let it Shine.” Of the four historical novellas, this one comes the closest to present day, set in 1961, when the Freedom Rides are underway and racist anti-black violence is front-page news.
Sofronia (or “Sophie”) has done everything in her power since a certain day of her childhood to be proper and polite. Her father, a preacher, expects nothing less, and that certain day was the last time she stood up to bullies, spoke her mind, or raised her voice. It was also the day her mother died, and in Sophie’s mind, the two are inextricably linked: pushing back leads to punishment.
Her childhood friend Ivan was also there on that day, a tiny Jewish boy who was being taunted and attacked by the antisemitic bullies. His path took him in another direction: to become stronger and able to handle taking a hit, he is now a strong and wide and tough boxer on his way to a champion standing.
They haven’t seen each other since the day Sophie stopped speaking out and Ivan decided never to be weak again, and when they find each other at a meeting of planned nonviolent protest, neither can deny how they feel about each other. But this is not a world that would treat either of them kindly, let alone together. Still, if Sophie can find her voice, and Ivan can allow himself to be vulnerable, there’s a shot at real happiness.
I really liked this one, with one minor caveat: both of the main characters are treated horribly by their surviving parents and there’s that sense of “family is so important, forgiveness is needed” in there I often rankle with. It by no means undoes the narrative and the story is freaking phenomenal, but I mention it as I’ve had a few people thank me for mentioning it in the past. And once again, this was performed to perfection by Karen Chilton.