“Trouble in the Air,” depicts the lives of ordinary people living real lives in the deep South during the decade when the transition from Jim Crow to the Civil Rights age was imminent. The setting is Jackson, Mississippi in 1954, the year the Brown v the Board of Education was decided. The action ends in 1965, the year after Lyndon Baines Johnson signs unto law the Civil Rights Act, ushering in the “brighter coming day” slaves had envisioned for hundreds of years. When the story opens, the main character Lizzie Ellison was nine years old. Though she was a native of Jackson, Mississippi, where racial segregation was a way of Iife during the pre-Civil Rights Era. Lizzie, the story’s protagonist, had led a sheltered life before 1954. Her parents, both school teachers, had tried to shield her and her older two sisters from the harsh realities of Jim Crow. And, they succeed until...
One day, the family was on their way, in their new luxury car, to New Orleans to spend a week with cousins. On a lonely stretch of highway, they were pursued by an unmarked, black car that had flashing strobe lights on the hood. After being pulled over and stopped by two white men, identifying themselves as sheriff and deputy, Mr. Ellison was ordered out of the car. The men made him kneel on the side of the road and answer their probing and humiliating questions. In the end, they took the family’s vacation money. Fortunately, Mama Lee saved the day because she had secret money pinned inside her bra. Based on this experience, Lizzie started to gain a new understanding of real life. As she and her sisters became more attentive to their racially scarred environment, their parents became more focused on teaching them about the past and helping them extract lessons in survival from it. Mama Lee, a consummate story teller, interwove family history, current social ills, and events from the darker past—slavery/post-Reconstruction to make plain the true story of the present.
The stories Mama Lee told are powerful. One of the most unforgettable is the narrative about Big Mama Ann Carr, the children’s great, great grandmother. Big Mama’s real name, Abieyuwa, meaning born to wealth and high status, was very fitting because she was an African princess, who, at the age of sixteen, was tricked into slavery by young men who told her they were taking her to a party but took her to a slave ship and sold her into slavery instead.
The most poignant story Mama Lee told was the story of Jeremiah, who was their first ancestor to be born free (1966). At the age of twelve, Jeremiah was shot down on Main Street in Jackson for trying to help a young white girl who had been thrown from a buggy. Seeing a black boy bent over his daughter, a white farmer drew the wrong conclusion and shot Jeremiah.
Although the tense racial climate of the South during the 50s and 60s is in the background of this coming of age narrative, “Trouble in the Air” is not simply a book about race. It tells a universal story, focusing on commitment, determination, faith, and healing. It also contains a love story which blossoms between Lizzie Ellison and her boyfriend, Ray Duncan, during the last three years of her college career.
The book has a story book ending with Lizzie and Ray getting married and, shortly thereafter, riding off into the sunset heading North—which, in reality, is a new beginning. The prophetic “brighter coming day” they hope to enter is the subject of a sequel that is currently in progress.
“Trouble in the Air has the potential to reach a wide audience. Characters are layered, complex individuals with differing motivations and strong family influence—whether positive or somewhat negative. They’re flawed, just like the rest of us.
Dialogue is vivid and varied, pulling the reader in much like would have happened if we’d been...listening as family history was brought to life. And the narrative voice is strong throughout, maturing as the narrator herself matures, which is a nice touch.
In terms of description and setting, both work well, giving just enough detail that the reader can build the scene in the imagination, without being so overwhelmed that the setting becomes artificially cluttered.”
—FriesenPress editor, April 2018
“Telling it like it was (is) from your side is so powerful. Just daily life, no editorializing, has such impact! Some things shocked me, others brought tears to my eyes....I am 99.99% sure there is nothing out there like this.
This is a must-read book. I love the new family tree drawing!”
—Barbara Ellis, Ph.D., Author, freelance writer, seasoned copy editor and former copy editing
professor at Louisiana’s McNeese State University—notes written November 10 – December 5,
“Trouble in the Air is powerful storytelling with vivid scenes that come to mind even months after my first reading. Lizzie witnesses blatant racism as a young girl and the perplexing reactions of Daddy Clayton and Mama Leona. Surrounded by caring family in a loving home, she thrives and discovers life is full of adventures. Her curious nature and drive for excellence propel her stellar academic achievements and career choices. She finds love—and plenty of unexpected drama—along the way. Sarah Ducksworth has an extraordinary gift of storytelling, informed by her passion and talents as a poet. Although the book is a novel, everything about it rings true to me as a reader.”
—Vivian Fransen, author of The Straight Spouse: A Memoir