Virgin Soul by Judy Juanita . Publisher: Viking (2013). Contemporary fiction. Hardcover. 320 pages. ISBN 9780670026586.
I’ve always been intrigued by the Black Power Movement of the 1960s and particularly the Black Panther Party– fighting the system of oppression and setting up programs to help those who’ve been oppressed (school breakfasts). Virgin Soul brings us into the movement through the experience of Geniece, an intelligent, determined San Francisco college student, struggling with identity, issues of gender and race and becoming spiritually and intellectually independent.
Geniece grew up across the bay in Oakland. She has a goal to earn a college degree and find a well-paying job. She’s working part-time as an after-school teacher and getting good grades. She finds herself drawn to the Black Power Movement that’s come to her college campus particularly after leader Huey Newton’s imprisonment in 1967. It’s the passion, determination and purpose that pull her into the movement. Geniece discovers this clandestine world of guns, multiple sex partners, FBI surveillance and illicit drugs while balancing her school schedule. As the Black Panther Party’s newspaper editor she’s the information epicenter and adores this position.
“I knew I was becoming militant. I just didn’t know if I wanted to become a militant. Malcolm X, Betty Shabazz, the protesters, the sit-in demonstrators down south were my heroes. I loved them from a distance and on paper. But the militants I met, mostly the guys on the soapbox on Grove Street, were harsh and abrasive and condescending to everyone, not just white people.”
Author Judy Juanita writes a riveting, insightful and honest account of a young woman’s political activism and development. As the Black Panther Party implodes, so does Geniece’s relationship with it. She’s a strong woman who seeks truth, honesty and beauty in the world. She not easily swayed by anyone, including the leaders of the BPP. Her self-discovery’s merely begun.
“I want everybody to be free. My core says if other people are happy, they’ll leave me alone. And that makes me happy, because I need to explore what happiness is. I don’t know what it is, but I’m curious. And I will find out what makes me happy. Likewise, if everyone is free and understands what freedom feels like, then they won’t want to limit my freedom. And I can freely explore the whole world with my full heart to find what happiness means to me.”
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Viking.