Your Blues Ain't Like Mine by Bebe Moore Campbell
Reviewed by John Glover, Reference Librarian for the Humanities
A fictionalized account of the murder of Emmett Till, Bebe Moore Campbell’s Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine is an engaging novel about the lives of the people involved. Spanning the many decades that followed the murder, this story personalizes the heartache suffered by everyone involved, from the family of Armstrong Todd (the fictional stand-in for Emmett Till) to the power brokers of the Mississippi Delta to the man who put a bullet in his stomach to the descendants of every person involved. Campbell has a knack for bringing her characters to life in all their beauty and ugliness. No one, murderer or victim, gets away unexamined in this work.
Whether it was Campbell's intention or not (she died in 2006), this book is the very definition of thought-provoking. Abstract ideas of discrimination and oppression have almost no role in this book; instead the reader experiences the thoughts and feelings of people living in difficult circumstances. To say that black Americans have historically been oppressed is one thing, but it is entirely another to watch the destruction of lives in ways large and small. All the novel's black characters struggle to survive the injustice of Jim Crow, to escape it in the North, only to realize that the legacy of oppression is inescapable, and can mean destruction even when victory is in sight. All the characters -- white or black, male or female, rich or poor, young or old -- are forever damaged by the things they do and that are done to them as a result of who they are. In the end, however, most of them find a place of strength to draw from in order to handle life's trials.