Life & Arts Books

July 20, 1997

The Pantagraph

Author delivers rich characters, compelling story
Only Twice I Wished For Heaven
Book Review

By Karen Strawn
Special to The Pantagraph

“I remember reaching for Alfred’s razor. I remember holding on to the pearl handle, bowing my head and wishing for a heaven. Wishing hard that there was such a place I could hang my hat. Wishing the way you do when you ain’t got nothing else to reach for and you find your self sinking into a hold so deep and dark and cold...And I swear I was about to take that blade…”
                                                                                                                     - Miss Jonetta Goode

Through the voice of main character Miss Jonetta Goode in “Only Twice I’ve Wished For Heaven,” first-time author Dawn Turner Trice tells an intricate and chilling story about a lying preacher, child prostitution, a drug-addicted mother, two little girls and the woman who only wished for heaven twice.

By the end of this 304-page novel, the reader will be compelled to single-handedly rid the world of evil.

Three important themes are: preserving childhood innocence; living life in spite of tragic circumstances, and the impossible fancy of isolating ourselves from others by building fences around our lifestyles, hearts, hopes and dreams.

The story begins as 12-year-old Tempestt Saville’s family is picked in a lottery to move from their South Side Chicago ghetto to Lakeland, Chicago’s finest black professional high-rise community, located behind a 10-foot-tall, ivy-covered, wrought iron fence in the heart of Chicago’s red-light district, 35th Street.

At Lakeland, Tempestt’s father said, she would be safe and protected from the kind of life lived on 35th Street, one block over.

From the first chapter the reader is transplanted into this world of conflicting urban black societies where Tempestt meets best friend Valerie; 35th Street store-owner Miss Jonetta Goode; and the street preacher the Rev. Alfred Mayes, whose fondness for little girls twists the plot into a violent course of events that Valerie can only escape by wishing for heaven.

In telling detail Miss Jonetta's past is revealed, creating a firm foundation for the reader to understand her motives in trying to protect the innocence of Tempestt and Valerie.

Even though the reader recognizes the direction of the story relating to Tempestt, Valerie, Miss Jonetta and the Rev. Alfred Mayes, the manner in which the author unfolds the story still delivers a desperate climax with a high-adrenaline consequence.

Through Tempestt, the author reminds the reader of two simple truths: what children consider important is different from what adults consider important; and children’s perceptions of the parents’ actions are more detailed and closely watched than initially thought.

“You haven’t heard one word, have, honey?” Daddy (said as he) took a long, deep breath. You know why I decided to go back to school? I wanted to give you somebody who does more than drive a cab...I want you to be proud of where you come from and I want you to be proud of me. I’ll be a teacher, honey. Your old man a teacher at a fine, fine school.”

“As I walked back to the tent, I wondered what I had done. I had always been proud of my father, and I wondered when he thought I’d begun to feel otherwise.”

As each chapter begins, the reader is enticed with a highlighted quote from the narrator of that chapter, offering a glimpse into the encounters of the next two to 13 pages.

Inside the content of the chapter, the reader discovers the quote in part of the dialogue, frequently with surprise because sometimes the quote is cleverly misleading as to the subject of the chapter.

Although the theme—life goes on in spite of tragic circumstances—is not uncommon in today’s fiction it’s the author’s evolving characters, metaphors, and her ability to translate her character’s pain straight into the heart of the reader, that sets this book apart.

The conclusion to the story is rapid and sad, but not disappointing.

Like real life, the lessons learned are like “beautiful gifts wrapped in bows of suffering...and sometimes, if we’re lucky they unfold into truly miraculous things.”

Tempestt: “I’ll never know what was said before I got to his door, but what he said afterward, I’ll never forget, because it reminded me so much of the man I’d known before—the man who drove his cab on weekends to some obscure street corner…”

Tempestt’s father: “At what point did we lose ourselves? When did we forget who we are? When did it become more important to be high society than human? We’ve been trying to find ways to protect ourselves—from them—separate ourselves further—from them...under the guise of keeping Lakeland safe...But we are them...Aren’t we? We’re as intricately woven as the ivy on the very fence that divides us.”