Review: How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs

October 4, 2018
How to Love a Jamaican, Alexia Arthurs, InToriLex
Published By: Ballantine Books on July 24, 2018
Format Read:  ARC Edition (pages)
Genre: Short Story/ Jamaican/ LGBTQA
Series: Stand Alone
Source: Author Request
Rating: Publisher Giveaway
How to Love a Jamaican
Tenderness and cruelty, loyalty and betrayal, ambition and regret--Alexia Arthurs navigates these tensions to extraordinary effect in her debut collection about Jamaican immigrants and their families back home. Sweeping from close-knit island communities to the streets of New York City and midwestern university towns, these eleven stories form a portrait of a nation, a people, and a way of life.

In "Light Skinned Girls and Kelly Rowlands," an NYU student befriends a fellow Jamaican whose privileged West Coast upbringing has blinded her to the hard realities of race. In "Mash Up Love," a twin's chance sighting of his estranged brother--the prodigal son of the family--stirs up unresolved feelings of resentment. In "Bad Behavior," a mother and father leave their wild teenage daughter with her grandmother in Jamaica, hoping the old ways will straighten her out. In "Mermaid River," a Jamaican teenage boy is reunited with his mother in New York after eight years apart. In "The Ghost of Jia Yi," a recently murdered international student haunts a despairing Jamaican athlete recruited to an Iowa college. And in "Shirley from a Small Place," a world-famous pop star retreats to her mother's big new house in Jamaica, which still holds the power to restore something vital.


Content Warning: Substance Abuse, Statutory Rape, Child Death, Mental Illness


These short stories wove great storytelling and Jamaican culture together effortlessly. In Light Skinned Girls and Kelly Rowland's an NYU student has to hold fast to her own culture while witnessing someone who is far removed it. Two girls struggle to be friends while being honest about how their choices carry much more meaning because if where their from. This was my favorite story and it illustrated how identity and race can become problematic when you have to educate and defend it to everyone you meet. Throughout these stories characters have to take defensive stances which often leave them lonely.
"It's saying exactly what you think, regardless of how it will affect the listener. Perhaps this is the language of the oppressed- the colonized, the enslaved. Maybe our kind doesn't have time for soft words."
How to love a Jamaican is a hard road map because being Jamaican carries weights and meaning that is hard to convey. The author uses great imagery and hard circumstances to build resilient, diverse, and complex characters. These were great reflections on love, coming of age and grief. While the stories weren't connected the Jamaican characters gave glimpses into their culture in relatable ways. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys short stories and learning about other cultures.
"But they used to call her Blackie or Dry head when she was in school, and no one had to tell her she wasn't the kind of woman anybody looked at more than once. Maybe that's why she lay down for the first man who paid her any mind, even though he was a married man with four children and had only three good teeth his mouth."
Recommended for Readers who
- appreciate cultural diversity and memorable characters
- enjoy reading about serious topics from many point of views
- want to read awesome prose that makes you think


I'm Alexia. I was born in Jamaica, raised in New York, and grew up in Iowa City. I started writing my first book, "How to Love a Jamaican" during my first year of graduate school. I wrote "Slack" over winter break in 2013. These stories are personal experiments--my anxieties, what I think about. If you have thoughts or questions about the book, I'd love to hear from you. You can ask questions here or feel free to write me at sayhello@AlexiaArthurs.com. Please don't be misogynistic, homophobic, or unkind.  

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