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The Root Worker Hardcover – May 21, 2001

4.7 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A horrific subterranean maze of darkest superstition and cruel, crude magic underpins and undermines the world of the 11-year-old girl who narrates this powerful and disturbing first novel. Ellen is a poor African-American child growing up on Detroit's Lower East Side in the 1960s. She has a ragged connection to a terrifying reality. In her mind, she refers to her mother as the Woman, to her father as the Husband. When she becomes pregnant, she barely knows how or by whom. Her confidante, Clarissa, may not exist at all except in Ellen's tormented imagination. The Root Worker, a voodooish maker of spells and curses for an extortionate price has convinced the Woman that Ellen is the cause of the bad luck that befalls the family. Harrowing efforts are made to cast out Ellen's evil spirits. Ellen knows, from the sisters at the Catholic school she attends, that the Root Worker is the devil's handmaid and that it is a sin to believe or buy her charms and "fixes." Ellen's salvation finally comes from a neighbor who recognizes the child's plight and sets her mind and heart on reclaiming Ellen for the human uplands of hope and trust. This is a challenging, strongly written debut by a writer with the compassion and courage to peer into a very dark place. (June 19) Forecast: A strong contender for inclusion in African-American curricula, this book is also a natural for workshops and conferences on child abuse. Readers who appreciated Trezza Azzopardi's The Hiding Place will find this novel equally forceful.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

The Woman, 11-year-old Ellen's confused mother, believes the black girl embodies a spirit of evil and misfortune that haunts the family. The Woman and the Husband distance themselves emotionally from Ellen, the mother out of madness, the father out of weakness. Younger brother Marcus is a playful companion, but older brother James is a sexual tormentor. Ellen finds thin solace in Catholic Church rituals and comfort in her alter ego, Clarissa. Meanwhile, the Woman seeks the guidance of a root worker, a voodoo priestess who holds sway in their downtrodden, 1960s Detroit community, where folks with southern backgrounds are caught up in a frenzy of "working" roots against evil and countering roots against the roots worked against them. The Woman and the Husband, an occasional Catholic, engage in a holy war, each looking for more powerful protective magic. When the Woman's mounting abuse and the root worker's perverse "cures" threaten to extinguish her soul, Ellen is rescued by a new neighbor's kindness. A strong debut that recalls Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye (1970). Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: The Overlook Press; 1 edition (May 21, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585671401
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585671403
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,217,441 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Meet Ellen. A child who many have forsaken. Her mother. Her brother. The root worker.
This finely crafted novel takes you through Ellen's life a she sees it; her hope for things to change for the better. Her conflicting religious beliefs. Her pain. Her sorrow. Her triumph.
The thing I enjoyed most about this book was the fact that after I read it it still lingered in my mind. I liked the fact that while I was reading my emotions were running on overtime. When something bad happened, my heart sank. When something good happened, I almost cried tears of joy.
Warning: This is not a "candy read". Expect to be affected. Expect to feel the emotions and terror Ellen feels. Expect to feel your heart wrench. Expect to feel set free.
From now on, I will expect nothing less.
Hats off to this talented new writer on a dazzling debut.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a hard book to read. Right from the start, the reader must accept the loss of hope as the road to salvation. Staying hopeful is a sure way to come to disaster.
Rainelle Burton has written a beautifully evocative story about true empowerment, using the narrative voice of a young african-american girl in a sharply bifurcated world. The young protagonist, Ellen, shuttles between her home, where she lives with a brother who sexually abuses her, a mother who she may only address as "The Woman," and a weak-willed, philandering father who she knows as "The Husband," and St. Agnes, the parish school she attends, with its wimpled nuns and robed priests. However, in Ellen's world, there are no saviors in the church or school, and there are no miracles in the potions dispensed by the root worker who The Woman pays for curatives.
Ellen calmly observes the dichotomies between what she believes her life might be and what it actually is throughout the story. She tries to make sense of her surroundings, searching for "glue" to hold things together, and to provide her with the safe haven she desires. The reader sees through Ellen's bruised and swollen eyes as stark episode after episode of poverty and ignorance reveal themselves. As readers, we share Ellen's pain and humiliation in the name of hope.
Ellen sees her own battered face and body in a shop window and identifies the girl she sees as "Clarissa," to whom she addresses many of her observations. Clarissa is Medusa-haired, puffy-eyed, scratched, and soiled, a battered confidante for a lonely, frightened little girl.
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Format: Hardcover
Not since Resurrecting Mingus, have I read a book that has moved me as much as Rainelle Burton's The Root Worker.
Ellen's story is a familar story, of the girl left behind. Hers is a story of physical, mental, and sexual abuse, that trancends the ordinary dysfunctional family. This unique tale is told in the voice of a girl whose voice has been muted to nearly everyone except her imaginary friend Clarissa. Even through the midst of angst and lonliness, Ellen story is vivid, uplifting, and somewhat humerous at times.
Burton's done a wonderful thing in this story. She let us peep into the lives of an extraordinary, reluctant, heroine. Her imagery and symbolism is reminiscent of Alice Walker.
If you want a book to read that's thoughtful, extremely well written, and even mystical, then this book will not dissapoint.
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Format: Hardcover
I thought this was a great debut novel! Burton's style of writing is vivid! I felt great pain for Ellen, an 11-year-old African-American girl, as I read about her abuse and long-suffering in a totally dysfunctional environment. It was extremely sad to see that most of the physical, verbal, and mental abuse came from her immediate family, including her mother. The mother's reliance on the root worker's remedies to solve her marital problems, insecurities, and overall unhappiness exacerbates Ellen's misery because the root worker tends to involve Ellen as either the cause of the ills or part of the "cure". At the urging of the Root Worker, Ellen is subjected to illogical arguments that test her Christian faith, more sexual abuse, and ingestion of ungodly concoctions.
Ellen's search for solace forces her into an alternate reality---I suppose this can be viewed as a mode of self-defense. Outsiders view her as peculiar and ostracize her even more. Most of the adults in the world tend to turn a blind eye to the outward physical abuse of this impoverished black child. Because she has no friends, she invents Clarissa-whom she confides her deepest thoughts. Luckily, she is befriended and rescued by a neighbor and things look up.
The novel is told through the eyes of Ellen and I found it a little hard to follow at times, especially when defining relationships of some of the key characters and their backgrounds. There was lack of closure with some characters and I was left wanting to know more about their fate. Overall, it was an enjoyable read.
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Format: Hardcover
I feel as if I have waited a lifetime for someone to write this book. It's Dantesque in its reporting of someone experiencing hell, and all the more remarkable since the reporter is an eleven-year-old African American girl, Ellen. There isn't a wrong note in this story of Detroit's inner city or in the miracle of Ellen's escape and salvation. Rainelle Burton is a new voice and an absolutely true one.
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