26 November 2020

Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones

Tayari Jones' An American Marriage was the best book I read in 2019, and hands down one of the best books I've read in the last five years. As soon as I finished it I knew I couldn't wait for whatever Jones does next, so I decided to look at the books she has already published. Leaving Atlanta was published in 2002 and is her first book. I got it for Christmas and finally got to it this summer!

Leaving Atlanta is about the Atlanta child murders during the late 1970s to early 1980s. More than twenty children were kidnapped and murdered during this time, and the majority would have been between nine and fourteen. Jones was born and raised in Atlanta and would have been within this age gap during the murders. This direct experience clearly influences the book and made me even more interested in it.

Just as I was discovering Jones' writing, I was also obsessing over David Fincher's Mindhunter season two, which is predominately focused on the Atlanta child killer. I knew a little bit about the case, but had no idea how many victims there were. It's a great season of television, but is really bleak and upsetting. I was curious to see how dark Jones' book would be. 

Leaving Atlanta is divided into three sections with three different narrators. Jones writes from the perspective of three black fifth graders - two girls and one boy. The children all go to the same school but are from different economic backgrounds and have super different personalities. 

Tayari Jones

I'm usually not a big fan of books written in the child's voice, but Jones makes it work for the story. I think one of the biggest takeaways I had was just how in-the-know many children were about the murders. Their parents were obviously so terrified that they often forgot how much information their children were taking in - clips from the news, overheard conversations between teachers, etc. I can't imagine how scary it must have been to experience this.

I don't want to say a ton more about each child's experience because Jones really does a good job of making you feel the anxiety of her characters. I found myself flying through this book because I was so nervous for the central characters. I swear sometimes my shoulders were touching my ears as I read.

Again, one of the best surprises of 2019 was reading Jones' An American Marriage. You can definitely tell Leaving Atlanta is Jones' debut novel, but that isn't really a deterrent for me. She is an incredibly talented writer and I can't wait to see what she has coming this decade!

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