Stories from the Tenants Downstairs by Sidik Fofana [in Booklist]
Sidik Fofana’s exquisite debut is further enhanced by eight pitch-perfect narrators (but where’s the cast list?!) who embody the collection’s eight interconnected stories.
“Banneker Terrace on 129th and Fred Doug ain’t pretty,” but evictions are pending because the building has been sold to create “deluxe apartments in the sky.” Within the “twenty-five floors [with] three hundred suttin apartments,” single mother Mimi – wondrously voiced with both bravado and vulnerability by Joniece Abbott-Pratt – is desperately trying to make rent. Fofana becomes Mimi’s babyfather Swan, who is outwardly casual as his just-out-of-jail buddy drags their crew into illegal adventures.
Bahni Turpin proves her virtuoso versatility as Swan’s mother, sharply observant in her assigned classroom as assistant to an ineffectual Harvard-degreed white teacher; Fofana’s NYC public teacher experience undeniably makes this story his best.
DePre Owens shrewdly observes evicted, expelled Kandese, who is sent to her grandmother for a summer. André Santana is heartbreakingly earnest as wannabe hairdresser Darius. Nile Bullock is a tenacious 12-year-old who witnesses death. Jade Wheeler is the Michigan dropout assigned to assist the woman who caused her downfall. Dominic Hoffman deftly closes the collection as an elderly man who doesn’t want to be a community project.
“Everybody got a story,” and sharing them proves lifesaving … albeit tragically too late for one.