Cover Image: Moonrise Over New Jessup

Moonrise Over New Jessup

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Does the idea of a Black community thriving in historical Alabama appeal to you?
How about an unreliable main character whose self-interest takes precedence over the will of those she loves?

Then Moonrise Over New Jessup may be a read for your perusal. In this novel, we get to see the organizing that characterizes how Black people responded to being disenfranchised during the 1960s in a context that explicitly centers how deeply a community feels about maintaining the level of freedom they've established for themselves. I enjoyed how the people who grew up in New Jessup had a variety of insights about how to preserve and attain leadership in the town was in conversation with how Alice as a newcomer jealously guards a town she seems to find by miracle.

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Alice has left the life she knew in Rensler, and traveled only partway to her intended destination. Life was just too tempting to pass up in New Jessup—no Colored-only water fountains, or entry doorways. The whole town is Colored, and life feels perfect.

Alice is a woman who means business. While her original goal is to reach her sister, New Jessup goes from a stop on her bus route to Montgomery, to a city she just can’t stand to leave. This all-Black utopia leaves her without an abusive landlord or other white person to lord over her. At first glance, it may be all that’s needed for the town to be perfect for her.

Soon enough, Alice is no longer a newcomer to town. With two jobs and a nice apartment over the dress shop, she soon finds herself courted by the son of one of the founding fathers of the town. She assumes his goals for maintaining the status quo in town will be the same, but he and other young adults in town want to make sure the town is truly theirs.

Life is never as simple as black and white. There lies dissent even in Alice’s perfect town. Is segregation truly the best solution? As with almost everything, there seem to be acceptable degrees of integration to the different residents in and outside of New Jessup

This story was a beautiful coming-of-age story of Alice and those she adopted as her new family in 1957 New Jessup. The book was 4 out of 5 stars, with a few loose ends unanswered, but isn’t that life? This would be enjoyed by those who like family stories, strong female characters, and stories of race relations in the 1950s & 1960s.

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I picked this book up when I heard "all-Black town" and am glad I did. It centers around Alice's journey of finding love and family amidst the civil rights movement in Alabama in the 50s and early 60s. I loved meeting all the characters of New Jessup and Alice was a wonderful character. Her thoughts and her love for her husband Raymond seemed so real and the way she transitioned between scenes like Forrest Gump annoyed me at first but became totally endearing as the book went on. The tension between the civil rights' activists call for integration and Alice's wish for a peaceful life for her family really made me think of the sacrifices so many have made in the name of justice.
If you enjoyed the themes in Wanda Morris' Anywhere You Run, check this one out.

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As a reader, sometimes I get bogged down in various genres. I am a fan of Science fiction, Fantasy, and every iteration that comes out of that side of the bookstore. But I realize that while I read widely, I don't read widely enough to get my feet firmly planted in fiction. So when presented with an opportunity to check out this beautiful book by Jamila Minnicks, I jumped at the chance.

The premise of Moonrise Over New Jessup is thus: "It's 1957, and after leaving the only home she has ever known, Alice Young steps off the bus into the all-Black town of New Jessup, Alabama, where residents have largely rejected integration as the means for Black social advancement. Instead, they seek to maintain, and fortify, the community they cherish on their "side of the woods." In this place, Alice falls in love with Raymond Campbell, whose clandestine organizing activities challenge New Jessup's longstanding status quo and could lead to the young couple's expulsion—or worse—from the home they both hold dear. But as Raymond continues to push alternatives for enhancing New Jessup's political power, Alice must find a way to balance her undying support for his underground work with her desire to protect New Jessup from the rising pressure of upheaval from inside, and outside, their side of town."

In the first few paragraphs, we meet Alice and learn of her predicament. Her mother has died, and a few weeks back, her father passed away, leaving Alice an orphan. Her beloved sister moved out a while ago, presumably to the big city, although Alice can't find her, and she knows she needs to leave as soon as possible before the landlord figures out a way to get her behind the toolshed. Alice is a protagonist that is bold enough to understand a situation and knows she needs to take action but tender enough that the move will sting. She has to leave everything she has ever known, hoping for something better.

We end up in the thriving town of New Jessup. Alice gets off the bus and looks for a non-white water fountain and doesn't find any. Or anything of its kind because New Jessup is an all-black community. There is a calm to New Jessup in the way that Minnicks describes New Jessup, a beautiful calm in stark contrast with where she came from.

The story is slow-paced, at times almost like molasses. But that adds something to the narrative, quiet, slow, and sitting on the porch drinking icey sweet tea. Moonrise Over New Jessup is a character-driven story, so while the pace is languishing, we are getting to know the characters for all their good and evil. This place is a haven against the racial tensions surrounding the town on all sides.

After reading it, it isn't easy to sum up how I feel about this book. The first word that comes to mind is stunning. The prose and lyrical nature of the writing are captivating. It takes you to 1957; you feel the heat on your skin and see it shimmering across the blacktop. The bus just drove away, and you smell the exhaust. But most of all, the writing conveys the uncertainty Alice Young feels in this new environment and how that changes over time. It conveys the social state of the world in 1957, and how that is rapidly evolving, it describes how the world viewed women, specifically women of color.

But most of all, it made me appreciate Minnicks's' beautiful writing and gave me the desire to seek out all their work.

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Moonrise Over New Jessup is a promising debut from Minnicks. I can see why it's getting buzz- it is well-written, engaging, and the voice is something I have not heard before. More importantly, the novel is very much a slice of real lived life of a part of US history that I (and I'm sure many) are not familiar with at all. As a child of the 80s I learned about the 60s from a very different lens than the lived reality of women like our protagonist- trying to make the best of a world that knocks her and everyone she knows down at every turn. She escapes misery to an earthly paradise in New Jessup by mistake- but running from her own past won't keep the world around her from catching up with her and her family, and the swirling civil rights movement is portrayed here in an altogether different manner than anything I've read before. This is a highly feminine and family-focused viewpoint on the challenges of the search for integration- and that is a story that is worth the telling. I think there is some bit of debut novel to this that I couldn't quite get over (do not tell me yet again about the half-truths and sorta-truths you have to tell, lady), but this is in general a strong start and a fresh voice that is worth the read.

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I'm not usually one for historical fiction books. But if this one was any indication for the genre I understand.

It's complicated when the world takes everyone and thing. To find a place that's free. And in the 1950's Alabama for a back young women like the main character Alice it's a miracle. When the world takes everyone from you.

New Jessup , a town that's fictional,reflected the appeal of actual places of security during the time leading up to civil rights primary years. For anybody who has no peace its understandable. It's such a relief to find and the risks of it unraveling is scary.

That starts and ends with the complication of Alice's love story. With Raymond Campbell who is a leader to a civil rights org in the town. Along with a couple of his friends he grew up with in New Jessup. Alice believes him when he claims to wants separation.

To say I went through phases of frustration and relief is an understatement. With most books this is normal for me. But this one felt amplified. It's because the reality of the history of the south in the United States. Being almost similar to Alice with just six and half decades between us is the most scary thing. But also gives more gratefullness about living in the 21st century.

More than anything this story reminded me about intentional. Because happiness is at risk from a majority of those around.

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Moonrise Over New Jessup
by Jamila Minnicks

I absolutely adored this book! I think this is a must-read.

Jamila Minnicks debut novel Moonrise Over New Jessup examines the issue of segregation vs integration from the perspective of a fictional all-black town in 1957's Alabama. 

Minnicks takes you on a journey of the town of New Jessup, its inhabitants and its history through the eyes of Alice Young, a young black woman searching for her sister.

From the moment that Alice steps off the bus to stretch her legs and realizes this town of New Jessup is missing the "Whites Only" signs and "coloured-only entrances" that she is used to, I was immediately fascinated and drawn into New Jessup.  I'm so glad that Alice decided to stay for a while. 

Alice falls in love with Raymond Campbell, one of the organizers of the groups pushing for change in town, and eventually becomes the matriarch of a new family. She discovers the underlying tension in New Jessup between those opposed to integration for fear of a disruption to the fragile peace and the loss of everything that they have established and built versus a younger generation that would like to expand their rights. 

In addition to the political controversy in the story, the book also focuses on love and family, community, and standing up for what you believe in.  

🌿My thoughts:

✨️Minnicks' writing is sublime and amazingly descriptive. The characters are alive and vibrant and I loved getting a snapshot into this time and place (although fictional) in history.

✨️This book gave me a lot to think about and many of the opposing views/opinions and issues around the Civil rights movement that I had not considered before. 

✨️ I adored the town and all of its people I missed them all when I was done reading.

✨️ Minnick is the winner of the 2021 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction and I can understand why. 

This is one of my new favourite books for sure. I can't wait to read what Minnicks writes next.

Highly recommend. 5 ⭐️ for me.

Thank you @algonquinbooks & @lioness_tales for the #gifted copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

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I loved this book! There was something about the author worded things that made me want to pause, to go back and read it again. It felt almost lyrical. I loved watching Alice move through life, and her emotions. It did take me longer to read this book than I thought it would because I kept going over parts again and again.

It was interesting seeing Alice react to New Jessup, and reading about her past. My favorite part of a historical fiction is that it can bring the past to life- the social climate, personal issues; this book delivers that with aplomb. I loved all the characters, even if I didn’t love the relationships between them. Patience was an interesting character, but I hated her for the way she treated Alice. I loved Raymond, but hated how he and Alice kept things from one another. It all added another layer of charm. For me, this was a five star book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.
On the adult content scale, there’s a lot to unpack. Violence, language, drinking, extreme racism, and reference to attempted sexual violence. I feel like this one was definitely geared toward adults 18 and over.

I was lucky enough to recieve an eARC from Netgalley and Algonquin books in exchange for an honest review. It’s a little late, my apologies.

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Moonrise over new Jessup was such a phenomenal read, I really enjoyed the characters growth. There were secrets, lies, family values and the writing was above par and had me so invested in the story. I liked how we went on the journey through different ages of the characters and how life events moulded them and their reactions to different things.

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Moonrise Over New Jessup is the debut novel from Jamila Minnicks and the 2021 winner of the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction awarded to an author of a previously unpublished novel. The novel starts in 1957 when Alice Young arrives off the bus in New Jessup, Alabama, an all-black town. New Jessup exemplifies #blackexcellence and for Alice, who is escaping sharecropping, a haven where she can live and thrive without the discrimination, fear, or intimidation that comes from living in the south under Jim Crow law. Alice quickly enmeshes herself in New Jessup working as a seamstress at a boutique dress shop and catches the eye of the distinguished Raymond Campbell.

Alice and Raymond form a happy union; however Raymond has secret meetings that threaten the livelihood of his family. Raymond and other young men in the town are seeking to establish New Jessup as an independent town from white Jessup, which still exerts a bit of municipal control over New Jessup. There are fears of integration with the civil rights movement is in full swing, but the residents of New Jessup prefer to govern and live separately.

At the core of this novel, it is a character driven story that examines what it means to hold true to your values during moments of change. How do you fight for what you believe in and what you need in order to thrive, not just survive?

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"𝙷𝚒𝚜 𝚑𝚊𝚗𝚍𝚜 𝚜𝚎𝚎𝚖𝚎𝚍 𝚜𝚌𝚛𝚞𝚋𝚋𝚎𝚍 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚖𝚊𝚗𝚒𝚌𝚞𝚛𝚎𝚍 𝚝𝚑𝚊𝚝 𝚍𝚊𝚢 𝚊𝚌𝚛𝚘𝚜𝚜 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚊𝚒𝚜𝚕𝚎, 𝚋𝚞𝚝 𝚘𝚞𝚛 𝚋𝚕𝚘𝚘𝚍 𝚗𝚎𝚟𝚎𝚛 𝚠𝚊𝚜𝚑𝚎𝚜 𝚏𝚛𝚘𝚖 𝚑𝚊𝚗𝚍𝚜 𝚊𝚕𝚠𝚊𝚢𝚜 𝚝𝚑𝚒𝚛𝚜𝚝𝚢 𝚏𝚘𝚛 𝚒𝚝."

Imagine stepping off of a bus into a town made up of all Black people, coming from one that was more diverse and not knowing this existed. This is what Alice experienced when she stepped into New Jessup. This was a shock to her since the place where she was from had signs prohibiting Black people left and right - "Whites Only."

New Jessup was new to her but she was content there and she makes it her home along with Raymond while in search of her sister, Rose. As she continually searched for her sister with the help of her now husband Raymond, Raymond fails to mention the other activities he's a part of - The National Negro Advancement Society (NNAS).

In this novel, we see the life of Alice and Raymond made for themselves in New Jessup, but that doesn't always include happiness. As we know, there are trials thrown our way when trying to live a peaceful, simple life and maintain what we have, and continue to build. I love Jamila's writing style! It was so Lyrical I could jot down so many quotes with how she weaves her words to tell a powerful story! From the beginning, this story pulls you in and keeps you reading. If I had to say anything, I would say I would have liked just a little bit more. Maybe another 50 or so pages. I would have also liked to have known the outcome of another piece of the story (can't say what, spoilers).

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🌟MOONRISE OVER NEW JESSUP🌟 by Jamila Minnicks ~published January 10, 2023

2.5/5. This debut fiction about an all-black Alabama town’s hesitancy to integrate didn’t work for me, so much so that I decided to stop reading halfway through.

We are introduced to Alice, a young black woman who has fled her segregated hometown in Alabama after a traumatic incident with her landlord. Without enough bus fare to make it to her sister in Chicago, Alice lands in New Jessup, an all-black community where Alice relishes using the main entrance to stores, sitting wherever she wants on the bus, and not having to “mix” with whites. While her fiance is an NNAS activist (National Negro Advancement Society) working for black rights, Alice is against efforts to integrate, or would at least prefer to stay out of politics all together and not ruffle any feathers.

This is a viewpoint that is not typically part of the Civil Rights conversation, and I thought it was an interesting premise and a worthy topic. Unfortunately, I found the writing style to be convoluted and hard to settle into. Sentences were jumpy where they should have flowed, transitions were weak, and not much happened, character-wise or plot-wise (at least through part 1, at which point I made the decision to DNF). While I am disappointed that this was a miss for me, I am proud of myself for knowing when to step away. I acknowledge that these thoughts come from a perspective of white privilege.

Sincere thanks to @algonquinbooks and @netgalley for the gifted advance review copy. All thoughts are my own.

This review will be posted to Instagram on Tuesday, January 17th. I will include a link at that time.

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I really struggled to finish this book. While I found the synopsis to be intriguing and love historical fiction, the story unfortunately fell short for me. I kept hoping something big would happen to grab and keep my attention but there just weren’t any climactic moments.

*Thank you to NetGalley and Algonquin Books for providing a copy of this book to review.*

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In Moonrise Over New Jessup, Jamila Minnicks writes of a Black founded, successful segregated Alabama town & what it means to its residents to risk the safety of insularity at the brink of the Civil Rights Movement.

Alice, the narrator, leaves home in search of her sister. With little money a train to Chicago, she stops in New Jessup & quickly becomes wrapped into the community. The warmth, the care, the resources that are shared with her stake her investment in the town just the way it is. However, after falling in love with Raymond, son of a town founder who has dreamed of deepening the town’s economic freedom, Alice gets caught in the delicate social balance of who does/who doesn’t support what integration might mean for them.

Minnicks is a writer of incredible detail; I saw & felt New Jessup. She layers emotions with intention & care, conveying the complexity and heart in each character’s stance. One thing that blew my mind was how she wrote time—because of Alice’s trauma, time was flexible & she became consumed by memory in the middle of another task. It was the first time I felt like writing truly reflected the way my own mind works, sweeping me through memories at will. The way the social interactions (and consequences for certain actions) are written ring so true to communities I know & love.

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Special thanks to Algonquin Books for providing a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review. 4 moon bright stars!

When I first heard about this, it was the cover that really caught my eye but the synopsis piqued my interest because it comes from a different perspective during the civil rights movement. Much of the mainstream literature/media that I've seen about this time period not only focuses on bigger cities/locations but also from the angle of only being pro-integration. Then again, I am reading this as someone who's not Black or American or living in America or a Western country, so it's likely that the "mainstream" stuff that I'm exposed to is really only a drop in an ocean. Still, I'm glad to have found this book that shares a different perspective and I'm happy that it came across my radar!

We meet Alice as she's running away from the only home she's ever known after being sexually assaulted by her landlord and she fortuitously comes across the small town of New Jessup. From there we follow her story as she makes a home and finds love and family, even if that means keeping secrets that could shake the peaceful new foundation she has built in this town. Moonrise Over New Jessup is a fairly slow-paced and character-driven story that was beautifully crafted. I was captivated by Minnicks' lyrical prose from the very beginning as she sets the scene and brings this town to life over the course of several years. New Jessup is a unique safe haven where unwelcome signs and segregation don't exist because it's an all-black community. There's a calm to the writing that matched the peaceful town setting very well, although I still felt a sense of underlying tension and I was constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, which is what kept me intrigued and reading; this is also what made this feel like a much faster read to me despite the slow pace.

While there was external pressure in the form of broiling racial tensions during the civil rights movement and from the surrounding town of white Jessup, most of the conflict and stressors in the story came from within the black community in New Jessup, between those fighting for integration and those who want to keep the status quo and continue living their peaceful lives in town. I really liked that this brought to the fore a nuanced perspective on the civil rights movement and shed light on how this situation might not have been so 'black and white' for many. Do you choose to live separately, with equal rights and self-governance? Or do you choose integration and equal rights? I don't know much about this specific history so I don't know how deeply these viewpoints and issues have been previously discussed but this discourse was new to me and I really appreciated learning about it! I particularly liked how Minnicks carefully and insightfully crafts these viewpoints through Alice's and Raymond's relationship over the years as they build a home and family together in a town that was built on the blood, sweat and hard work of their forefathers, and that has functioned separately and well for generations. I loved their relationship and the many tender moments that we get to bear witness to and though it might not have been perfect, I thought it was an honest portrayal of a relationship with its challenges and triumphs, as well as heartwarming and fraught moments.

Beyond the external social situation, Moonrise also sheds light on the various roles women play whether that's in the traditional home-making sense or in pursuing a successful career and fighting for integration. It shows the women behind the men and the lengths that they would go to support and protect their families. I do, however, wish that the secondary characters had been a little more developed. I wanted to know more about Dot, who I felt had so much strength in her own right, Percy, Matthew and the other men involved in the fight for municipality and integration.

I'm not generally a fan of open endings, but I do understand why it was written this way. While the final lead-up to this end felt slightly rushed and less well thought out compared to the rest of the book, I do think it was an appropriate ending as what's written here is really only the beginning of Alice and Raymond's story. Would I love to know what the couple decides to do and what happens to them and New Jessup following that ending? I definitely do, nonetheless, I thought it was an appropriately hopeful and satisfying ending. Overall, I think this was a wonderful piece of educative fiction that sheds light on a part of history and I think it could foster some great discussions if read for a book club or with a group of friends! I personally learned a lot through the read and I hope this gets the proper attention it deserves.

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A beautiful story about a young woman who finds herself in an all Black town.

After escaping her a dodgy landlord who has come to collect more than the month’s rent, Alice finds herself on a bus to Chicago. Searching for her older sister Alice who managed to abscond their bleak childhood home and town. She comes across a Negro town and is drawn to build a new life there.

The prose of this story is haunting and beautiful. Minnick’s debut is filled with gorgeous storytelling and unique queries on what it means to own a piece of yourself and your ideals.

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Go get this one. Book clubs - I’m talking to you here! The writing. The story. The HISTORY. (And…it’s blurbed by Barbara Kingsolver, Jason Mott, and Margaret Wilkerson Sexton.) This is about a black woman. Alice, in 1957, fleeing her home - getting on a bus to go to her sister in Chicago. She only had enough money to get as far as Birmingham - gets off of the bus on a stop in New Jessup, Alabama, which is an all-Black town. This is a complex and enlightening and beautifully-written book (at one point she looks around the town and describes the “colors”’of all of people she sees - it’s gorgeous.)The book has tension throughout which it balances with the beauty of new relationships formed by Alice. QUESTION: do you read historical fiction? One of your favs if you do? Heartfelt thanks to Algonquin Books for the advanced copy.

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Thank you for letting me read this book. I was disappointed in that I had expected to become involved in the characters and care about their difficulties. Except for Alice, I did not find that to be the case. I felt like I had traveled a long way at the end only to wind up where I started. I will not be blogging about this book because another person may react entirely differently, and I don’t want to take away their pleasure.

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This debut novel was beautifully written with an interesting setting/premise. The heavy descriptions made it easy to see the scenery in my mind. I’d say this was a more character-driven story, following the life of Alice, a young Black woman, as she moves to the all-Black town of New Jessup, Alabama at the beginning of the civil rights movement. This book was definitely a slow burn, and was actually a little too slow for me for most of it. It didn’t grab my attention like I was expecting, but I was interested in where the story was going. I liked seeing the different opinions from each of the characters on segregation and integration, and their reasons for their beliefs. I liked how the book looks at the different roles of women during this time period, and shows how much women do that isn’t acknowledged. Pick this one up if you’re in the mood for a more mellow-paced novel!

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Moonrise Over New Jessup
by Jamila Minnicks
Pub Date: January 10, 2023
Thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for the ARC of this book. Jamila Minnicks’s debut novel is both a celebration of Black joy and a timely examination of the opposing viewpoints that attended desegregation in America. Readers of Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half and Robert Jones, Jr.’s The Prophets will love Moonrise Over New Jessup.
A thought provoking, moving and inspirational story of the beauty of love vs. the nature of hate. You must read this one!
5 stars

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