The Jacob Ladder

"Love your family, whoever they might be," says the indomitable Tall T, the 12-year-old narrator of Gerald Hausman and Uton Hinds's novel, "The Jacob Ladder."

Tall T is a boy who knows what he's talking about. In his family, life is a daily exercise of faith and creativity. His father has abandoned his mother and his five brothers and sisters in order to live with the voodoo practicing Mama Poon and her daughter, Lorita.

His mother's small wage as a washerwoman cannot even provide Tall T with the uniform he needs to attend the village school. Even though Tall T and his brother Johnny have difficulties finding work to help support their siblings, and the family begins to go hungry, Tall T's mother insists he respect and love his absentee father.

Tall T's effort to learn more about the forgiving kind of love practiced by his mother, as well as to help solve the problem of his family's struggling finances, leads him on a journey into the joys of the local library, the history and culture of the traditional dance of Jonkonnu, and even a kind of island entrepreneurship.

Along the way he gains the physical and spiritual strength to climb the island's "Jacob Ladder," the steep stairway cut from the Jamaican hillside that stands as the symbolic link between Tall T and manhood.

A carefully written and informative Authors' Note that describes the origins of Obeah, or West African sorcery, and its impact on the inhabitants of the Caribbean, as well as a colorful glossary of native words enhances the educational value and multicultural appeal of this inspiring autobiographical story.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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