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Fifth Born.

by Zelda Lockhart Pocket Books, September 2002 $24.00, ISBN 0-743-41265-6

In Fifth Born, Zelda Lockhart explores the dynamics of emotional, physical and sexual abuse through the experiences of Odessa, who struggles to find a safe place within her large and nightmarishly dysfunctional family. It's a weighty topic for a debut novel, but Lockhart does a credible job of conveying Odessa's emotional turmoil as she learns to hide the truth about her parents from every one-even herself.

The story begins with a trip from Mississippi to St. Louis, just after the death of Odessa's grandmother, the one person who has shown the three-year-old girl the love her parents--Lonnie and Bernice--seem incapable of expressing. Odessa's mother and father are always fighting, but always present a happy front to the outside world. In reality, Lonnie beats Bernice and the children mercilessly, and spends most of his income from his service-station job on liquor. When Lonnie turns his attentions to Odessa, violating her sexually, Bernice refuses to admit what happened and makes Odessa do the same.

One day, however, Odessa runs away from home and crosses paths with the mysterious Ella Mae, a woman who holds the key to both her past and her future, Through Ella Mae's lengthy retelling of her own tragic past, Odessa is finally able to reclaim her own truth.

Lockhart uses the voice of a child to tell this poignant, troubling story. Odessa's innocence amplifies the horror of her situation. But there are moments when she sounds too mature for her years, when we wish we knew more about the adults and their lives, and instances when the story seems a bit muddled. Overall, Fifth Born is a strong first effort from a talented writer.
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Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Simon, Denise
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 2002
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