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Only Twice I've Wished for Heavenby Dawn Trice
Synopses & Reviews
1. For discussion of Only Twice I've Wished for Heaven
: How do Tempestt's first impressions of Lakeland [pp. 18-19] establish the themes of the novel? What details in her descriptions of the landscaping and buildings bring to life her uneasiness about the community? Enchanted with the surroundings, her father calls Lakeland "a place straight out of a fairy tale." In what ways does Lakeland also embody the darker elements of traditional fairy tales?
2. How do Tempestt's parent's aspirations for themselves and their daughter differ? Discuss how their own backgrounds influence their reactions to Lakeland. Why does her mother, the daughter of a successful doctor, say "I don't want her growing up the way I did --" [p. 28]? What regrets does she have about her own upbringing?
3. What initially draws Tempestt to 35th Street? Why does she find Alfred Mayes's street-corner preaching so spellbinding and intriguing? What do Miss Jonetta and the men at O'Cala's provide for Tempestt that her own family can't?
4. Why are Valerie's unexplained absences from school and other signs of trouble ignored by her teachers and fellow classmates? Why does Valerie tell Tempestt that she spends her afternoons with her mother "saving souls" in the projects [pp.199]? Is it only shame that prevents her from telling the truth?
5. How does Valerie's fascination with birds offer insights into her feelings about herself and her place in Lakeland? What clues are there that despite her studied indifference Valerie longs to fit in? For example, what does Valerie's excitement about the school dance and her overnight stay with Tempestt reveal?
6. How does John present himself before his true relationship with Valerie is revealed? Could he have done more to protect Valerie?
7. Only Twice tells two coming-of-age stories--Tempestt's and Miss Jonetta's. Which one did you find more compelling? More realistic? How does Jonetta's rural Southern upbringing effect her expectations of and reactions to life in a northern city? Is her readiness to trust Alfred Mayes even after he has betrayed her understandable? How do her experiences as a young woman shape her eventual role in the community?
8. What impact do Judd, Fat Daddy, Mr. Chittey, and Hump have on Tempestt's view of the world? Do Trice's portraits of them reinforce or counteract common stereotypes of black men in today's society? What passages or events are particularly effective in capturing each man's nature?
9. Why does Tempestt's father secretly visit their old neighborhood [p. 135]? What indications are there that he has doubts about the environment he has chosen for his family? Why doesn't Tempestt's mother discuss her own negative feelings about Lakeland with him? Why does it take a serious crisis to spur their departure from Lakeland?
10. Why does Alfred Mayes confess to a crime he didn't commit? What responsibility, if any, does he bear for what happens to Valerie?
11. At the beginning of the book, Trice writes "Despite what lay outside the fence of Thirty-fifth Street, whatever the world had told people they couldn't do or be or wish for, it didn't apply to the residents of Lakeland--Once here, Lakelanders didn't look back" [p.20]. What are the costs, both for individuals and for society as a whole, of this sharp division between classes? What have the residents of Lakeland sacrificed in their pursuit of economic and social rewards? What obligations, if any, do successful African-Americans have to those still trapped by poverty and racism?
For discussion of the two novels
1. Trice describes three different African-American communities--the posh Lakeland and sordid 35th Street in Only Twice, and the rural midwestern town of Halley's Landing in An Eighth of August. In what ways do each of these communities reflect the history of African-Americans in this country and the social and economic realities of America today? What attitudes or beliefs do the characters who inhabit these very different worlds share?
2. Only Twice deals graphically with the problems of urban living--drug addiction, prostitution, casual violence, governmental indifference and neglect, not to mention that the fateful events in An Eighth of August are set in motion by Mr. Paul's act of perversion. What keeps the negative events at the heart of the novels from overshadowing the stories Trice tells?
3. Why does Trice use more than one narrator? How do the changes in voice shape the stories she tells? Did you identify more closely with specific narrators, and if so, why?
4. Tempestt tells her story from the vantage point of twenty years, and the recollections in An Eighth of August switch back and forth from 1973 to 1986. How do the changing time frames and perspectives strengthen the power of the novels?
5. In Only Twice, all the characters are African-American. In her second novel, Trice included a white woman, May Ruth, as part of the community she creates. What do you think she was trying to accomplish by doing this? Does May Ruth's background and race influence the way the other characters relate to her?
6. Both Tempestt and Pepper witness the death of their best friends, and both feel a sense of responsibility for the tragedy. How do their reactions differ? How do the reactions of the adults around them affect their abilities to cope with their guilt? We know that Tempestt ended up living a rich, fulfilling life. What do you think will happen to Pepper in the future?
From the Hardcover edition.
In 1975 young Tempestt Saville and her family are chosen by lottery to "move on up" to Lakeland: one square mile of rich black soil carved out of a Chicago ghetto, cradling sparkling apartment towers and emerald lawns where the elite of black professionals live in privilege, secure behind a ten-foot-tall, ivy-covered wrought-iron fence.
But eleven-year-old Temmy is drawn to the world outside the fence, to 35th Street, a place of colorful, often dangerous, characters. Here the saved and the sinners are both so "done up" you can't tell one from the other: among them, Alfred Mayes, the oily street preacher and connoisseur of "fine young thangs", whose line is as smooth as honey and whose looks are twice as sweet; and Miss Jonetta, a former lady of the evening, who knows everyone's story, and whose own history is as long and dark as 35th Street. Before a month has passed at Lakeland, Tempestt will witness the death of a friend, cause the arrest of a preacher, and start a chain of events that will send 35th Street up in flames.
Only Twice l've Wished for Heaven is a tale of love and loss told by characters as vivid as the times they live in and as complex as the rage they try to bury.
In 1975, Tempestt Saville and her family are chosen by lottery to "move on up" to Lakeland: one square mile of sparkling apartment towers and emerald lawns where the Black elite live sheltered from the ghetto by a ten-foot-tall, ivy-covered wrought-iron fence. Eleven-year-old Temmy doesn't enjoy the privilege, however, and thinks Lakeland is the "kingdom of the drab." Instead, she is drawn to the vivid world outside the fence: to 35th Street, where the saved and the sinners are both so "done up" you can't tell one from the other. Tempestt's curiosity soon leads her down a dangerous path, however, and after witnessing the death of a friend, she sets into motion a chain of events that will send 35th Street up in flames.
About the Author
Dawn Turner Trice, an editor for the Chicago Tribune, lives outside Chicago with her husband and daughter. She is at work on her second novel.
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