review: Angel of Greenwood

title: Angel of Greenwood
author: Randi Pink
date: Feiwel and Friends; January, 2021
African American historical fiction
main characters: Angel Hill and Isaiah Wilson

Angel of Greenwood is Randi Pink’s third young adult novel. in the book’s Author’s Notes, she explains that she set out to write a book about a young Black woman and a young Black man who fall in love in an idyllic Wakanda sort of place. When she learned about Greenwood, she knew this was where she wanted to set her story. Not many of the actual details of the Massacre are describe in her book, but it is there. Rather, she sets the stage for the event by describing how tenuous life was for Blacks in Greenwood District, Oklahoma. “Rest within unrest. It is impossible.” (p.2)

History sets the story in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma just weeks prior to the Memorial Day Weekend. School is ending for the year and finals are underway for the high school students. Angel Hill is slow to get to school because she has babies to care for and elders to speak with. Isaiah Wilson is late because he can’t say ‘no’ to the antics of his best friend, Muggy Little Jr.. This idyllic town? Oh, it’s really more of a Peyton Place because “people have many secrets and complicated emotional relationships”. But Angel and Isaiah? These teens often have their heads in more philosophical thoughts such as mercy and truth,  how they’ve come to deserve such a prosperous life, how to develop courage or should W.E.B. DuBois matter more than Booker T. Washington. The two are brought together by their teacher, Miss Ferris, who hires them for the summer to deliver books to lower income Black children in an adjacent district who are as thirsty for knowledge as Angel and Isaiah. The pair work to select and deliver books and eventually to save themselves and their community.

Many reviewers call this a love story. I suppose so, but only in the sense that it demonstrates the transformative power of love; what happens when one experiences love and is truly and completely seen. Greenwood worked as a community because here, Blacks could collectively and individually be seen and loved. Pink writes not to deliver a history lesson or explain why white people did what they did to Greenwood District in 1921, but to demonstrate how Black people lived, and loved.

The narrative voice of the story, limited third person provides objectivity and trustworthiness to the information provided to the reader. Rather than writing in first person and changing the voice in each chapter, Pink simply alters the perspective. This technique works extremely well for Angel of Greenwood because the narratition is developed in a style that maintains an old time feel, reminding the reader of the limitations that were set upon these teens. At the very beginning of the story, Angel’s father says to her


“Yours is beginning [referring to her fight], and for that, I am sorry. I wish for you mercy. I pray for you truth. I long for you the peace of sitting on a porch swing beside a man who loves you more than life itself. But, I sense trouble on those winds. We’ve been dodging it for a time just like the swift in the soapberry. It’s coming, dear child. I’d swear it is.” (p. 3)


This is indeed a story of mercy and truth. And because we are still dodging trouble, it’s moral questions are quite relevant.