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Leaving Cecil Street Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 30, 2004

4.8 out of 5 stars 57 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Wistful, melodious, contemplative, McKinney-Whetstone's prose feels inspired by the tenor sax central to this story. It's the summer of 1969 on Cecil Street in West Philadelphia, and "even though the block had long ago made the transition from white to colored to Negro to Black is Beautiful, the city still provided street cleaning twice a week in the summer when the children took to the outside and there was the familiar smack, smack of the double-Dutch rope." Neet and Shay, 17-year-old neighbors, are as close as that double rope, and when Neet's illegal abortion goes terribly wrong, Shay is distraughtâ€"especially since the procedure had been her idea. Shay's father, Joe, offers tender, paternal wisdom: "Be sad 'cause your best friend is going through a trauma right now, that's a clean, honest sadness. Don't dirty it up with a bunch of guilt that you choosing to feel." Dealing with his own sadness and guilt is harder. Joe loves his wife, Louise, but giving up the sax soon after they married turned out to be a bigger sacrifice than he realized, and getting straight with himself is a moral, sexual, musical adventure. McKinney-Whetstone's fourth novel (after 1999's Blues Dancing) is remarkable for the rich development of all its characters, notably Neet's mother, Alberta. She first appears as a bleak woman who torments Neet with a cruel religiosity, but her backstory of forced prostitution reveals more about her; her final sacrifice redeems her. Meanwhile, Deucie, the mother who abandoned Alberta, has sneaked into Joe and Louise's cellar to die. Joe plays his sax, harmoniously connecting and resolving the separate story lines.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–Joe and Louise and their 17-year-old daughter, Shay, are a well-respected family in a close-knit, working-class, black neighborhood of Philadelphia in 1969. Joe is a frustrated jazz saxophonist who gave up his musical career to please his stern and domineering wife early in their relationship, but now he rebels in quiet ways–such as having an affair with a beautiful newcomer to Cecil Street. They live next door to Shay's friend Neet, whose mother, Alberta, is a devoted follower of an extremist religion. The woman tries to make Neet conform to her strict lifestyle, but her emotionally scarred daughter sneaks out of the house regularly. When she ends up pregnant, she decides to abort the baby. Since abortions are not yet legal, Neet falls victim to a botched job by another teen. The author sensitively depicts this traumatic event, as well as pivotal events in other characters' lives that explain the complex, secret, and often painful connections among them. This richly poetic novel offers a vivid depiction of urban life during the early post-civil-rights era. The theme of how abortion rights (or the lack thereof) can impact the lives of teens could serve as a journal-writing prompt. Some students may also benefit from reading about how these characters struggle through sexual molestation or the death of a beloved parent, yet eventually heal. Students who liked Tumbling (Morrow, 1996) will find this story compelling.–Joyce Fay Fletcher, Rippon Middle School, Prince William County, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1 edition (March 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0688163858
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688163853
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,989,826 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In her latest novel, Leaving Cecil Street, Diane McKinney-Whetstone transports the reader to 1969, suburban Philadelphia. Life is good for the residents of Cecil Street -- a neat, clean, tree-lined community filled with a close-knit group of law-abiding, hardworking middle class citizens. The story centers on two families: Joe, Louise and their daughter Shaylala (Shay) live next door to Alberta and her daughter, Bonita (Neet). Shay and Neet are best friends from infancy, but their 17-year-old bond, along with family marriage vows, religious convictions, and the neighborhood's tenacity are tested when tragedy strikes.
The novel opens in the afterglow of a festive neighborhood summer block party -- on the surface, all seems well. However, within Joe, this magical night has unleashed a longing for his first love and his balm: a mysterious prostitute named "C" and his music. He is a former tenor sax musician who seventeen years ago gave up the club life for his wife and family and now suddenly wants to pick up his horn again. He recklessly engages in an affair with a young, southern belle visiting for the summer in an attempt to recapture the freedom and passion that the previous lifestyle offered. Louise, Joe's wife, is wrestling with thoughts of Joe's fidelity and her own demons stemming from unresolved childhood issues of loss and abandonment. Alberta, harboring her own secrets, is the neighborhood outcast who emerges herself and Neet in a cult like "fire and brimstone" religion to atone for her shady past.
Like most of America at that time, Cecil Street has slowly recovered with mixed emotions in the wake of the turbulent political and social outcries that besieged the 1960's. Their hopes and dreams of a brighter and promising future are entrusted in the next generation.
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Format: Hardcover
Welcome to Cecil Street; a strip of West Philadelphia inhabited by an interesting group of black Americans. The year is 1969. Afros abound, jazz music is "hot" and the topics of the day include the Vietnam War and hippies.
In Leaving Cecil Street, Diane McKinney-Whetstone vividly portrays a neighborhood that is pleasant to both the eye and heart as she gives us an intimate look at the innermost thoughts of the people.
In the story, we are privy to the private thoughts of only a few of the people in the neighborhood. There is Joe, a passionate saxophone player who in sadness of having to lay down his instrument to start a family has discovered other ways to fulfill his passion. His wife Louise, who has a significant lack of compassion and empathy and a fear of pain, is ironically a successful nurse. Their daughter Shay is a typical teenager faced with the challenge of dealing with love lost-both between her parents and her and her best friend.
Their churchy next-door neighbor Alberta is so ostracized by everyone for her decision to follow a strict religious group, it's a wonder she remains on Cecil Street. Neet is Alberta's daughter. The innocence she thinks she has reclaimed with love causes an eerie catastrophe that affects everyone on Cecil Street. Deucie, a character who unknowing to everyone, becomes a mysterious resident of Cecil Street.
As the story progresses, we learn more and more about how each of the characters is disconnected from the rest, until at the last party of the story, we discover they are more connected than they could have ever imagined.
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Format: Hardcover
1969 was a tumultuous time for blacks in America. Black leaders such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King had been assassinated after leading the battle for civil rights. Hippies roamed the streets preaching free love; and the "black is beautiful" movement was in full effect. And though there were troubles and hard times, there were still neighborhoods where folks treated either other decently, almost like family. Next-door neighbors spanked your kids for you when you were away. Block parties brought people together. Even funerals brought out the love in others in the form of repasts, where neighbors cooked all kinds of food in hopes of bringing your spirits up.

"Leaving Cecil Street" captures all of the above and then some. The new novel from the author of Tumbling, Tempest Rising, and Blues Dancing tells the story of the goings on of two families who live next door to one another in West Philadelphia. This includes Joe, a horn-playing lover of both jazz music and women who can't seem to keep his hands off the latter even though he is married. Louise, his wife, is a wife and mother who refuses to see a dentist, even though half the teeth in her mouth are rotten. Shay is their Afro-wearing teenage daughter whose best friend lives next door. Bonita (Neet) is Shay's best friend for life. And Alberta is the church-going, mean-spirited mother of Neet who has a secret past. Then there's Deucie, a strange and dying woman looking for her lost daughter who takes up residency in Joe and Louise's basement during a block party without their knowledge.

The story centers on what happens with both families before and after Neet's pregnancy and subsequent, illegal abortion (described with shocking and incredible detail).
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