Child Bride: A Novel

Jennifer Smith Turner’s fine sense of detail gives this story valuable historical insight. When Nell is first bewildered because she can’t find the “colored” women’s bathroom in the Boston bus station, and then astonished to see women of all colors standing in the same line and using the same utilities, the impact goes beyond even pictures of the pre-Civil Rights south. Turner’s eye for small points carries through this compelling story of one woman’s coming of age journey. A fine book for reading groups!

Jane Arnold, Professor of English (retired), SUNY-Adirondack

From Poetry to Prose, Jennifer Smith Turner Finds Her Way

“Nell, the narrator and heroine of Jennifer Smith Turner’s new novel Child Bride, is a survivor in more ways than one…Nell’s love of literature, which begins in her one-room Louisiana school, shines through in her narration and dialogue and is one of the things she clings to after she and her husband migrate North to Boston…”

— Louise Hufstader, Martha’s Vineyard Gazette

“Turner’s warm and personal narrative brings to life the vigor and interdependence of black communities in both the South and the North of the mid-20th century…uplifting and dynamic…

A captivating story of a strong African American woman who pursues her dreams.”

Kirkus Reviews

“This enticing debut novel from poet Turner (Lost and Found: Rhyming Verse Honoring African-American Heroes) chronicles a young black woman’s coming of age amid the turbulent racism of Louisiana and Boston just prior to the civil rights era. Nell Jones, born in 1941, grew up on a farm in Louisiana, basking in the support of her family and enjoying the comfort of books. At 16, she agrees to marry Henry Bight, a man 10 years her senior, and they move to Boston after being wed. Nell’s attraction to Henry wanes as he exerts total control over her life, barely letting her leave their apartment. After giving birth to two children, Nell demands that Henry allow her to attend church. There she meets Charles Johnson, a college-educated man who shares her love of books and learning. When their brief affair results in a child, Nell faces Henry’s wrath. But Turner eschews the traditional “fallen woman” plot, and Nell finds she has more resources and support than she expects.

The parts of the novel set in segregated Louisiana illuminate the socioeconomic and educational discrimination experienced by African-Americans. Turner alludes to the omnipresent undercurrent of fear, referencing the brutal hanging of Emmett Till and Nell’s startled awareness of overt discrimination when she visits her family after living in Boston. 

Turner’s character work is excellent, establishing Nell, Henry, and Charles as real people, complete with imperfections. Nell in particular is a complex young woman, whose desire for love, family, and learning make her easy to connect with. Turner’s secondary characters are equally fleshed out and complex: Phyllis Leonard, a minister’s wife, is generous and but strict in her morals, accepting Nell into the church fold but masterminding Henry’s plan to evict Nell from their home after her infidelity. Turner has crafted an accessible and absorbing historical drama about one woman’s path to creating the life and home she wants…”

“Child Bride,” a first novel by Jennifer Smith Turner…takes us on a long, treacherous journey from the deepest reaches of the segregated South to…Boston, sometime in the middle of the last century…

A self-described workaholic, she (Jennifer), also clearly qualifies as a renaissance woman…We’re lucky to have her here.”

— Whit Griswold, Martha’s Vineyard Times

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