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In this emotionally complex and stunningly well-crafted debut novel for adults set in Chicago in 1987, author Tina Shelton narrates the story of one family from the alternating perspectives of the mother Charlotte and her 14-year-old daughter Gracey.

With three generations under one roof, life in the Downing household is tumultuous and unpredictable. Though Charlotte and her husband Moses had begun their marriage with love and joy, something changed between them, altering not only their relationship, but also Charlotte’s ability to function as a loving mother.

Though Charlotte is struggling as a parent, Moses shines as a father, daily assuring his three daughters—16-year-old Joanna, Gracey, and 12-year-old Francine—of his love for them and their beauty in his and God’s eyes.

As the girls lean on their father, they avoid their cantankerous, foul-mouthed grandmother who often belittles her daughter Charlotte, sometimes alluding to her past sins, and vents her frustrations against the children.

When Moses dies of a heart attack, the family is unmoored. First, Grandma leaves, and then, shockingly, Charlotte abandons her children in order to deal with her traumatic past.

Though the neighbors in their tightly knit Black community gather round the girls to help them survive, the consequences of Charlotte’s decision pile up, and an irrevocable chain of events is set in motion. When secrets that were kept for years are unearthed, each of the family members must choose how they will navigate their new reality.

This Ain’t No Promised Land is a deeply satisfying read, peppered with biblical wisdom that avoids preachiness and populated with realistic characters whose spiritual and emotional struggles will resonate with readers. Shelton subtly comments on the fallout of slavery in the United States that continues through the generations and shows how, even though “this ain’t no promised land,” God is at work healing families and bringing justice.


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