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Leaving Cecil Street.

Leaving Cecil Street by Diane McKinney-Whetstone William Morrow, April 2004 $24.95, ISBN 0-668-16385-8

Love gone wrong every which way it can is the substance of this new novel by Diane McKinney-Whetstone. It is 1969, and a cloistered block in west Philadelphia is shaken to its core by long kept secrets, betrayal and lies that wreak terrible damage on two families. It is painfully clear from the start that there is no happily ever after for the residents of Cecil Street.

There is Neet and Shay, two best friends on the verge of womanhood. Neet, however, rushes her fences and ends up pregnant. A visit to the block's "Saturday morning house" for a backroom abortion goes horribly awry, leaving Neet guilt ridden and barren. The tragedy rips Neet and Shay apart. Shay turns instead to her mother Alberta's religion.

Alberta is unable to comfort her daughter because of her own dark childhood. Shay's parents, Joe and Louise, are adrift in a marriage with only the memory of the passion and love that brought them together.

Meanwhile, a naked crazy woman takes refuge in the basement beneath the couple's front porch. Deucie remains unseen but sees it all through the warped lens of her insanity. McKinney-Whetstone, the best selling author of Tumbling (Touchstone Books, April 1997) and two other novels, delivers a well-nuanced tale against the backdrop of sultry summer nights, block parties, black boys singing doo-wop on the street comers and the boiling racial tension that marked the '60s.

The author, who lives in Philadelphia, knows her turf. Cecil Street is drawn from a childhood memory of a forbidden block around the corner from her family home. The characters are sharply drawn and their misguided motives all too believable.

"We weren't allowed to play for long on Cecil Street," McKinney-Whetstone writes. "My mother never gave a reason and that fueled my imagination that the block held a dark secret. Writing Leaving Cecil Street was my attempt to both discover and understand the soul of that little street." What a dark soul it turned out to be.--Earni Young

Earni Young is a writer for the Philadelphia Daily News.
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Author:Young, Earni
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 2004
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