Them by Nathan McCall
Review by Tavares S. Carney
Amazon Rating: 4.5
Gentrification (dictionary.com) – the buying and renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighborhoods by upper- or middle-income families or individuals, thus improving property values but often displacing low-income families and small businesses.
In Nathan McCall’s second release, the issue at hand is the gentrification of Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, heavily populated by African-Americans who have become comfortable within their own zone and accustom to their way of life. The neighborhood enters a phase of change because "they" start moving in. Most African Americans in the neighborhood – like main character, Barlowe Reed, are uncomfortable with accepting the change due to innate feelings of there simply being just "too much water under the bridge." Cohabitating with seemingly concerned others is a notion hardly acceptable. While reading this novel, I got the impression that Barlowe felt victimized by "the system" and simply became comfortable with his personal status quo because prior experience had proven him powerless in many ways, all because of his heritage. The sight of the American flag, not really being happy with his Caucasian supervisor’s treatment towards him and the uneasiness he feels when he starts seeing the trickle of "them" moving into his neighborhood – all represent things, situations or people he feels can take something from him. I got the sense Barlowe feels he doesn’t own or have rights to anything – a corner in the world he can call his own. The Old Fourth Ward goes through a period where the community is at odds due to a series of mishaps and downright misunderstandings that occur as more of "them" move in. The neighborhood becomes tense as the racial divide continues to grow. The African Americans feel as if they are being moved over and out as new coffee shops and pottery courses spring up. They also see that the public officials are paying more attention to the "potential" now. Many Old Fourth residents ponder, "Where was the potential in the neighborhood before? Did it not exist prior to "them" moving in?"
Enter Sean and Sandy Gilmore, a Caucasian couple, moving to the Old Fourth Ward after a realtor pitches the neighborhood to them asking if they’d consider "going black," reassuring an apprehensive Sean that "they" drive values; thus, no need to worry about property values deteriorating – "the prices are still real low, but I’m telling you it’s about to explode." Sandy, on the other hand, anticipated seeing the homes for sale in the neighborhood. Sean and Sandy purchased the home next door to none other than Mr. Barlowe Reed. Now, he has "them" as neighbors.
Barlowe and Sandy form an unusual relationship after many conversations through a fence that separated their back yards. Both characters become frustrated with race relations. She believing she is a conduit for integration and he making her aware that it’s not that easy to just slide in and think she can save the world. Barlowe thinks Sandy is naïve and while she does empathize with him regarding the situation at hand in the Old Fourth Ward, she does not speak her feelings publicly. I do believe at some point, the two agreed to disagree on a lot of things, developed a certain degree of respect and level of understanding toward the other, eventually moving on – Barlowe settling into the Old Fourth Ward as it continued to change, while Sandy and Sean ended up moving away.
Nathan McCall does a good job in provoking reader thought toward race relations in America today. The book discusses the basis of misunderstandings between African Americans and Caucasians and assumptions based on stereotypes. I think Them will force readers to examine their own thought patterns on the issue.
While the book presents no solution to the gentrification issue, Them is a page turner with well-developed characters, scenarious that arouse reader emotion and after reading it, it does make one think.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Sister Tavares S. Carney is the President and CEO of Echelon Entertainment, a boutique promotions company which promotes uplifting and positive books, music, theatrical works, businesses and events. The primary vision of Echelon Entertainment is to inspire, motivate and encourage. Sister Tavares, since 2004, has represented various musical artists and producers, promoted authors and has assisted with event planning, coordination and execution for conferences, seminars and other networking events. READ MORE