Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Published August 2017 by Melville House
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review
At seventy-two, Johnny Ribkins shouldn’t have such problems: He’s got one week to come up with the money he stole from his mobster boss or it’s curtains for Johnny.
What may or may not be useful to Johnny as he flees is that he comes from an African-American family that has been gifted with rather super powers that are rather sad, but superpowers nonetheless. For example, Johnny’s father could see colors no one else could see. His brother could scale perfectly flat walls. His cousin belches fire. And Johnny himself can make precise maps of any space you name, whether he’s been there or not. In the old days, the Ribkins family tried to apply their gifts to the civil rights effort, calling themselves The Justice Committee. But when their, eh, superpowers proved insufficient, the group fell apart. Out of frustration Johnny and his brother used their talents to stage a series of burglaries, each more daring than the last.
Fast forward a couple decades and Johnny’s on a race against the clock to dig up loot he’s stashed all over Florida. His brother is gone, but he has an unexpected sidekick: his brother’s daughter, Eloise, who has a special superpower of her own.
This is one of those books that I thought sounded interesting when it was pitched to me then completely forgot what it was about by the time that I started reading it. I'm so glad I did - going into the book completely unaware meant that it was an even bigger treat than it might otherwise have been.
Inspired by W. E. B. Dubois' essay "The Talented Tenth," Hubbard has crafted an utterly original novel full of heart, hope, and, dare I say it, fantasy. Is it possible that I have actually enjoyed two books already this year with a fantasy element? The Talented Ribkins is also something of a reverse graphic novel - rather than taking a story and turning it into an illustrated work, this feels like an illustrated work that's been translated into novel form. I don't read many graphic novels, either so this one would really seem to be out of my wheelhouse.
Maybe what I've learned from this book is that those genres, fantasy and graphic novels, might actually not be that far distant from my usual fare. Because this book is filled with interesting characters I grew to care very much for, there is an interesting family dynamic, there are complicated relationships, and there is a depth to the story I wasn't expecting. Perhaps I've been giving those genres short shrift. Or perhaps Hubbard is just that great at storytelling, which makes this debut novel all the more impressive.
Once in a while, things got a bit muddled, but Hubbard pulled things back together and wove the various threads she'd been developing throughout into a very satisfying ending. Although she relies on the fantastical gifts of the Ribkins to drive the story, the clear lesson here is that people need to make the most of the gifts they are given. Oh yes, and that no matter what our issues are with our family (however we define that), family is everything. I like that, I like that a lot.
Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for introducing me to this book and to Hubbard. I look forward to reading more of her work. For other opinions, check out the full tour.
About Ladee Hubbard:
Laddee Hubbard is the winner of the 2016 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition for the Short Story. She holds a BA from Princeton University, an MFA in Dramatic Writing from New York University, an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin, and a PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles. She lives in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Talented Ribkins is her first novel.