Girlz ‘n the Hood: A Memoir of Mama in South Central Los Angeles by Mary Hill-Wagner
Hill-Wagner is one of eleven children who grew up with an often single mother in South Central LA. Though her mother worked as a nurse’s aide, money was tight. At times, she was unemployed and her welfare benefits didn’t stretch to the end of the month. The school-age children would bring part of their school lunches home for the younger kids to eat. Mary collected returnable RC Cola bottles to buy herself treats. And while the family gets through these hard times, more serious troubles haunt siblings who become addicted and land on the wrong side of the law. At one point, the family loses its home to fire and spends weeks homeless. However, Mary’s mother manages to keep the family together. A Jehovah’s Witness, she abides in her faith, her quick-wit, her persistence, her hard work, and a number of handy guns. (Yes, those guns really do come in handy, but no spoilers.)
We know immediately that little Mary is an incipient writer. She loves to listen to adult stories and repeatedly risks punishment in order to eavesdrop on adults. In one funny scene, she puts a glass to the door and wonders why she can’t hear the conversation on the other side since it always works in the movies.
Girlz ‘n the Hood concludes with poignant reflections on how much is enough when one is helping family members and also trying to escape a cycle of poverty. I highly recommend it.
High School Housekeeping: I’ve been focusing on books that teens and librarians might not otherwise know about, but that are great choices for their reading and school libraries. Girlz ’n the Hood is an adult memoir, but an excellent choice for high school readers.