Begonia Brown: A Philadelphia Story
by Julia Press Simmons
(Queen Midas Books)
5 out of 5 Stars
Julia Press Simmons has really hit her literary stride with “Begonia Brown”, the second installment in her “A Philadelphia Story” series. Pulling no punches, Simmons has skillfully penned a heart-wrenching saga following the lives of Begonia Brown (age 17) and her two sisters Violet (age 16) and Daisy (age 6). The souls of these girls are as beautiful as the flowers they are named after, but they are planted in a North Philadelphia neighborhood that offers very little to nurture their souls.
The girls’ mother, Doreen, is present physically, but has lost the mental and spiritual battle to a crack addiction is primary to her existence. Shortly after the girls’ grandmother passes away, Begonia finds herself in the center of utter chaos: her mother is another ghost of the streets, Violet is naive to the streets and Daisy is a baby that contends with juvenile diabetes and a lack of medical supplies. Begonia takes the initiative to do absolutely any- and everything to keep her sisters together and alive, even if it means kicking her mother out of the abandoned house they live in. That’s enough to make a grown man cry or a young girl grow up quick and “make it happen”.
“Begonia Brown” is written in a way that any reader will be emotionally drained as they share in Begonia’s struggle. Although Begonia is an artist at heart, her skills as a painter takes a backseat to the skills she uses to survive in her poverty-stricken Philadelphia neighborhood. From robbing and stealing to performing sexual favors, Begonia reluctantly buries her morals to the side and conceals her regrets in a thick soup of justifications, liquor and cigarettes. The way Begonia deals with the curve balls that life throws at the Brown family had me at times forgetting that Begonia is 17-years-old and not 34.
Violet is highly intelligent, and she is not satisfied with being impoverished. Only one year younger than Begonia, Violet is still innocent. Violet’s story intensifies at just the right point in the story to balance out Begonia’s one-woman-show. Violet goes from books to cooking crack cocaine for the neighborhood crook. She finds herself trying to balance the line between getting her tail beat by Begonia and losing what she feels is the love of her life. Violet’s love for the “corner boy” Kyle makes her blind and sheds light on how good girls can find themselves with the worst people and the worst situations and stay.
Simmons fine-tuned Begonia Brown, both as a book and as a character. To say there is never a dull moment is an understatement. Simmons grabs the reader by the hand with a painful grip and never gives the reader a chance to pull away. “Begonia Brown” transcends Urban Literature in a way that paints a realistic portrayal of a struggle that is universal and brutally honest.
Instead of giving the reader luxury cars, couture from international designers and an infinite supply of drug money, Simmons gives you bra straps, bathroom beat-downs and sexual predators who think nothing of paying minors for instant gratification. What makes “Begonia Brown” such a compelling read is Simmons’ ability to show the vulgarities of inner-city struggles without being vulgar.