Angela Jackson-Brown’s The Light Always Breaks is set in 1940s Washington, D.C. yet (unfortunately, angrily) much of the discourse is still relevant today.
Eva Cardon is a successful restaurant owner. This would be impressive on its own, but she’s also only 24, Black, and it’s 1948. She’s using her exceptional business prowess to help feed the Civil Rights movement, metaphorically and literally, when she finds herself pulled towards Courtland Hardiman Kingsley IV, Georgia’s young hotshot Senator who is already testing the patience of the South with his liberal leanings. Love between them is more than complicated– it could ruin both of them and endanger their families.
This heart-wrenching tale is told in both Eva and Courtland’s point of view, giving insight into both characters. As with all of Angela Jackson-Brown’s novels, each character is intricately developed. The secondary characters are just as well developed as the main players, including those only present in a few scenes.
Several real life historical figures are included, including Representative Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Hazel Scott, and many other prominent figures of the 1940s political and musical landscape.
One detail I adored in this novel is the relationship Eva shares with her sister. Though they disagree on the best path to equality and on the type of life each wants to lead, they are still there for one another with such tender love. Though their family isn’t perfect, nor are they claiming to be, they are each a shining example of loving someone right where they are.
The tone and voice of this book matches the formality of the time. This, combined with the fantastic setting and gorgeous fashion descriptions, root the reader in the historical time and place the book is set. Historical fiction can be tricky in this way, and Jackson-Brown seamlessly draws the reader into the time, and keeps them there without the details ever getting distracting.
The character of Eva is certainly one of my personal favorites, and I particularly love how intersectionality she is. Eva is not only actively fighting for racial equality but also standing up for herself and her fellow women. One of my favorite scenes is when her restaurant is hosting a plethora of strong leaders, and she’s singled out as ‘not like other women.’ Instead of leaning into this, she says in reply:
“Well, maybe if you menfolk would actually engage in dialogue with your wives, mothers, and sisters, you would find that they are more than just pretty armpieces…I believe there are more women like me than any of you can imagine, many of whom are sitting across the room, banished from being part of this conversation. Women with careers that would be just as illustrious as yours if they shared your XY chromosomes.”
I cheered out loud the first time I read that passage. Eva has both the skills and the fire to stand up for what’s right, which makes her a fierce advocate. Just a few pages earlier, she had noted the way the men excluded the women from the discussion, “Eva could tell that the women were not pleased to be segregated from the men’s discussion, but Eva knew this was not something that was unusual. As much as the Negro men railed against segregation that was created and supported by white folks, they did not hesitate to do their own version of it against their own women– women who often did more work and raised more money to push the agenda of civil rights than the men.” This is just one of many scenes where Jackson-Brown really shows how women were, and still are, vital to political and social movements of the times.
This novel has so much packed into it, from relevant historical information to a love story to portraying a beautiful, loving family to showing the chokehold of overt and systemic racism. There is also a special nod for fans of When Stars Rain Down, as several characters are mentioned and even have a small role in this novel.
Stay tuned to this page for an interview with the author of The Light Always Breaks, Angela Jackson-Brown!
Thank you to Angela Jackson-Brown, Harper Muse, and NetGalley. I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
The Light Always Breaks will be available on July 5, 2022. You can preorder this title from Bookshop.org here. Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org. I will earn a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you click through and make a purchase.