East Of Troost by Ellen Barker

I had to keep pinching myself while reading this novel. I kept thinking it was a memoir. It reads like one. And, in fact, a lot of the content is taken directly from the author’s life. We never know the protagonist’s name. But it is a novel.

The main character has had more than her share of tragedies. And then she decided to leave her old life in sunny California behind and return to the town she grew up in: Kansas City, Missouri.

Troost is a real street. East of it is where you can buy a house if you’re Black. It’s also where out middle-aged white narrator grew up— and where she has just returned to reboot her life. How will she fare in this vastly changed world? This fictional story, punctuated by factual memoir, is by turns soul-searching, entertaining, and heartbreaking.

The above paragraph introduced the book in the paperwork sent from the publisher.

What has happened to make her choose to go home again? She has lost her husband, tragically, and her house has burnt down. Boom! She traveled with only a few things and basically a carpet bag with a minimal amount of clothing. Less is more has become her attitude.

Barker attends to details thoroughly. From the moment her protagonist arrives at her childhood home we get a running commentary of everything in her sight. She’s a very strong woman. She begins to make lists of things she will need and it’s not short. She realizes she has no food and immediately peruses the neighborhood looking for supplies. She needs a hardware store. On and on. She meets people who help her find a handyman. Determined to do this right, she is off to a good start.

I haven’t mentioned Boris yet He’s the large dog she brought with her. He’s a super addition to this novel. What a great thing to have when moving to a new place where you know not one soul. A dog is a magnet.

I will try to sum up this story. White middle-aged woman moves into mostly Black and run down neighborhood, alone. She spends a lot of time fixing this place up. She remembers growing up here in the sixties, the rioting, the crime. She remembers the history and the segregation. The author hopes with this novel to show how important home ownership is to all people. She wants people to know what it’s really like to live in a community such as this.

So what do I think of the book? I was definitely engrossed in the novel. Loved the tenacity and humanity the main character exhibits. Made me wonder if I could have done as she did: return to my hometown.

My review copy was provided by She Writes Press and Spark Point Studio in exchange for an honest review. Well-written and enlightening.

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