Twelve-year-old Beka Lamb lives in Belize City, "a relatively tolerant town" where people with their roots in Africa, the West Indies, Central America, Europe, North America, Asia, and other places, "lived in a kind of harmony. In three centuries, miscegenation, like logwood, had produced all shades of black and brown, not grey or purple or violet." Beka knows her family's history from Gran who tells of "befo' time," when they were slaves, and now, when Beka can win an essay contest at the Convent school: "Befo' time... Beka would never have won that contest... But things can change fi true." And change they do. Before she won the essay contest, Beka's days were filled with family, domestic work, food, school, neighbors, politics, hurricanes, and dreaming with her best friend, fourteen-year-old Toycie. Before the contest, Sundays were the days she and Toycie walked Beka's baby brother through the rich neighborhoods to the seashore and planned the redecorating they would do when they owned the houses they passed, the days Beka waited patiently while Toycie talked to her boyfriend. Before the contest, Beka lied, got caught, got punished, and lied again. Before the contest, Toycie was still alive. Beka Lamb is a beautiful and lovingly told story of a few months in the life of a young woman growing up in a time and place of constant change. -- For great reviews of books for girls, check out Let's Hear It for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. -- From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Jesse Larsen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Fourteen-year-old Beka lives with her father Bill, her mother Lilla, two younger brothers Chuku and Zandy and her Grandmother Ivy. She has some typical teen insecurities and rebelliousness, but she loves and respects her parents even though she does not always understand their discipline. Beka realizes that her family has more advantages than most of the other Creole families; plus, her friends and neighbors often remind her how lucky she is to be living with a mother and father, rare in the Creole community. Beka is well-liked by her community and is always ready with a smile. People remark that they can see “Beka’s teeth coming before any other part of her.” She has one good friend, Toycie Qualo. Beka is not yet interested in boys and does not like Toycie’s boyfriend, Emilio. Beka is curious and has a good sense of humor, but she procrastinates and is lazy about her school work. Her “fooling around instead of doing my work” causes her to fail three subjects and she is not promoted to the next level at St. Cecilia’s Catholic School for Girls. Beka aspires to be a politician and serve her country one day, but she must conquer school first.
Beka’s inner turmoil is representative of Belize’s turmoil. Like Belize, Beka is caught between the worlds of “befo’time” and “nowadays” and is constantly evaluating the characteristics of old versus new, accepting some and discarding others. She attends political meetings with her Granny Ivy but also questions her father about his political beliefs. Seeking her own identity often causes conflicts that she describes as a “tidal waves” in her mind. She straightens her hair and insists on speaking Spanish and wearing lipstick. This prompts her father to label her a phony, which she detests more than the beatings she receives for lying. She tries to stay out of trouble at school, but when she announces her doubts about the existence of heaven and hell, Sister Virgil and Father Nunez suggest that perhaps she should not be educated in a Catholic school.
Beka continues to learn and grow with each of life’s lessons but Toycie’s tragedy is the most impacting lesson of all. Toycie’s death not only strengthens her resolve to “never fall in love” but it also convinces her she must complete her education. Beka learns to channel her passion and intelligence and becomes a mature woman who can correct her mistakes. She blossoms into a self-confidant young woman who is not even afraid to slip into her Creole dialect to make a point to Sister Gabriela while her mother smiles approvingly. Beka learns that she controls her destiny and with hard work, she will not be condemned to a life like that of the Coolie prostitute, National Vellor, who tells Beka, “No mother, no father, no school. What could I do?”
Seventeen-year-old Toycie is Beka’s best friend. Toycie lives with her maternal aunt, Eila because her mother abandoned her and moved to Brooklyn when Toycie was two years old. The Qualos are extremely poor but Beka does not realize it at first because she views everything from Toycie’s eyes which “embellished everything with bright sparks of what she believed could be.” Toycie is intelligent, talented, and beautiful. She plays the guitar and is helpful and well-liked by everyone. Toycie works hard at school, realizing and appreciating that her aunt must work several jobs to pay her tuition. Her unmarried aunt has failed to give Toycie any counseling about the dangers of premarital sex, however, so lacking any positive male influence in her life, Toycie is easy prey to Emilio’s overtures.
As Toycie’s relationship with Emilio intensifies and Beka decides to apply herself to her studies, the two girls drift apart. When Toycie becomes pregnant, her life is ruined. She is abandoned once again and does not even receive grace from the Sisters of Charity, who expel her from school. She loses the will to live, stops eating and eventually loses her sanity. She is killed during a hurricane when a mango tree falls on her and shatters her skull.
Granny Ivy is Beka’s maternal grandmother. She lives with her son’s family and shares an attic bedroom with Beka. She loves to tell stories about how things were in Belize...
(The entire section is 1753 words.)