Synopses & Reviews
Set in 1950s Chicago, this story of a girl tempered in a crucible of abuse and neglect is a superbly crafted narrative in the spirit of the bestselling novels "Push" and "Bastard Out of Carolina."
"Burks's unflinching, precisely observed story of a girl's will to survive her hopeless surroundings a Chicago home ravaged by poverty, abuse and neglect follows Neecey from her childhood in the mid 1950s to her early 20s, in 1973. Burks recounts a bleak coming-of-age for Neecey, beginning with the dissolution of her parents' marriage. The sudden appearance of a man claiming to be her real father sets in motion the philandering of her de facto father, Jesse, and the jealous rages of her mother, Ruby. In a broken home ruled by Ruby's fists and extension cord lashings, self-sacrificing Neecey assumes an adult role as surrogate mother to her younger siblings, whose numbers grow from three to five as Ruby barters her body for male comfort. Giving predatory lovers free range over her home while leaving Neecey to cook and care for the children, Ruby displays a destructive self-absorption unmitigated by any sense of responsibility to her family. While Burks (SilkyDreamGirl) skillfully charts Neecey's struggles in a bleak urban landscape, she demonizes Ruby, placing a two-dimensional character at the core of an otherwise moving second novel." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
Cris Burks received her M.F.A. in creative writing from Chicagos Columbia College, where she taught fiction writing for several years. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in many publications, including the anthology Gumbo, and she isa also the author of the novel, SilkyDreamGirl. She lives in Sacramento, California.
Reading Group Guide
1. Jesse disappears from the novel by chapter 4 and does not reappear until chapter 16. Whats the motivation for focusing on him in the first three chapters?
2. Neeceys Lullaby is set in the mid-1950s through early 1970s. Think about why the author might have chosen this time period instead of a more contemporary setting.
3. Della is aware of the beatings administered by Ruby. Why doesnt she interfere?
4. Miss Cole is concerned about Rubys treatment of Neecey. Why doesnt she contact the authorities? What resources do todays teachers have to help abused children? What resources do family, neighbors, and children have? What legal steps would be taken against a mother like Ruby today?
5. Throughout the novel, Ruby is in one bad relationship after another. How does this impact her relationship with the children? Which relationship or relationships are the children most comfortable with? Which relationship had the worse impact on the children? Why?
6. Knowing that Ruby chose the name Darcy Bane to reflect a poisonous relationship, why do you think she chose the names Serenda Joy and Jordan?
7. Although Ruby is abusive, Neecey often stands up to her. When and why?
8. After his accident, why does Manny think Ruby is the wrong person to care for him? Why is he upset that Neecey is moving?
9. In the final confrontation with Ruby, Jordan claims that Neecey has always been their mother. Why?
10. How would the novel change if it was told from Rubys point of view? Odessas point of view? Jacks point of view?
Neeceys Lullaby is the story of a young girl who grows into adulthood under the harshest of conditions, managing not only to survive but to become a surrogate mother to her younger siblings. The questions that follow are meant to spark conversation about Neeceys journey and the supporting cast of characters.