Reviews for Toning the Sweep


Kirkus Reviews 1993 April
Johnson's spare, beautifully written first novel--a thematic extension of Tell Me a Story, Mama (1989)--portrays a crucial turning point for African-American women from three generations. Grandmother Ola has cancer; Emily and her mama go to the California desert to pack up her belongings and take her back to Cleveland so she can die in peace near her family. Ola and Emily have a special bond: for different reasons, both are mildly estranged from Mama; both love the arid land Ola has made her home since fleeing Alabama after her husband's tragic death in 1964. Latching onto a video camera, Emily starts recording the reminiscences of Ola's friends as a gift for her. In the process, she discovers the source of Mama's unhappiness, and, together, they find the proper send-off for Ola in the desert. Johnson leaves much to understatement, trusting readers to delve between the lines. Emily's narration is interrupted--by Mama, by Ola--in resonant testaments of love; such introspection gives the fleeting days an added poignancy. At the close, the laughter shared by these three and their friends seems to linger in the dry, still air. Place this brave and wonderful piece of storytelling with the best of YA fiction. (Fiction. 12+) Copyright 1999 Kirkus Reviews

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 1993 May #1
With several picture books already to her credit, Johnson ( When I Am Old with You ) makes an especially promising foray into YA fiction with this thoughtfully nuanced and penetrating novel. Emily, the 14-year-old who serves as the principal narrator, spends a bittersweet few days with her much-loved grandmother, Ola, who lives in the California desert. Ola has been diagnosed with cancer, and Emily and her mother are helping to pack up the house so that Ola can move into their home in Cleveland. Ola, Mama and Emmie, all three African American, are almost extraordinarily resilient and independent, but Johnson portrays them believably. Traits that might have come across as quirky instead seem well integrated as Johnson delicately and gradually unfolds the past events that fostered such inner strength--events including the lynching of Ola's husband in 1964 Alabama. Although plagued by occasional moments of self-importance (``You can't get away from the things that make you sad, Mama says. I believe that. Sad can be bigger than happy sometimes''), the prose is generally understated, gaining added texture from passages narrated by Ola and Mama. Depicting a heroine who learns to balance the most urgent feelings of love and loss, Johnson herself balances powerful themes with poise and skill. Ages 11-up. (Apr.) Copyright 1993 Cahners Business Information.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 1994 July #3
PW , in a starred review, praised this ``thoughtfully nuanced and penetrating'' novel about three generations of women from an African American family who must cope with a beloved grandmother's illness. Ages 12-up. (Aug.) Copyright 1994 Cahners Business Information.

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School Library Journal Reviews 1998 September
Gr 6-9-Before Emily's grandmother leaves her beloved desert home, possibly for the last time, the sensitive teen sets out to record the memories of the woman, her friends, and relatives on video. While documenting the reminiscences, she learns about her African American family's past and gains the strength to say good-bye. A powerful story about connections and coping. (Apr., 1993) Copyright 1998 School Library Journal Reviews

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