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Heart's Desire

 
Love's Celebration
by Monica Jackson
(BET Books/Arabesque, $4.99), ISBN 0-7860-0603-X
***
Kwanzaa is a seven-day Afrocentric celebration that begins December 26. Kwanzaa is neither a religious holiday nor an alternative to Christmas. Adapted from the annual agricultural festivals that are an integral part of African tradition, Kwanzaa was created by Maulana Ron Karenga in 1966 to unify the African-American community toward a common set of goals and objectives and to reassert traditional values.

Kwanzaa's seven principles are: Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujimaa (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith). The celebration is family-and-community-oriented. An estimated 20 million people of African descent in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, England and Africa now celebrate Kwanzaa in some form.

Arabesque has published Kwanzaa stories as part of its year-end holiday anthology since 1994. The works of Rochelle Alers, Bridget Anderson, Roberta Gayle, Carmen Green, Shirley Hailstock and Margie Walker have been featured. Love's Celebration by Monica Jackson is Arabesque's first full-length Kwanzaa story.

Love's Celebration is Jackson's third and most ambitious book. It is a Kwanzaa primer complete with a history of the cultural celebration, quotes by Black notables, biographical sketches, 23 pages of recipes and a bibliography of material for adults and children. But at the heart of Love's Celebration is the story of J.T. Henderson and his wife, Teddi.

The Hendersons are living the American dream in Connecticut. "Teddi giggled, then thought of how blessed she was. She had a wonderful husband who she loved madly and who was crazy about her, and a beautiful five-year-old daughter who'd just started kindergarten. They had it all..."

Teddi's dream quickly turns into a nightmare. One afternoon she picked up her daughter from school and returned to home to find emergency vehicles in front of the rubble where her house once stood. T. J. has vanished and is accused of embezzling $3 million from his employer. Strengthened by the support of her family, Teddi moves to Kansas to rebuild her life. It's taken her two years to pull her life together.

One night she investigates a suspicious noise in her home. She spots an intruder and shoots him. Lo, and behold, it's T.J! Missing his family after two years on the run, T.J. has come home to spend Kwanzaa. Boy, has he got a lot of explaining to do.

As you can imagine, this is a very busy book. Love's Celebration presents some of the most interesting aspects of the Hendersons' observance at the expense of the basic romance between Teddi and T. J. There is a secondary romance between Teddi's sister and a local banker I found much more entertaining. In addition, Teddi's parents face a crisis of their own and her mother is, far and away, my favorite character. There are some unexpected plot twists that I found enjoyable.

There is a mystery to unravel that I won't spoil. However, certain aspects of T.J.'s character didn't quite ring true for me. Given his experience and love for Teddi, I found it extremely hard to believe that T.J. would jeopardize his family's safety by reappearing during a very public celebration.

In Love's Celebration, Monica Jackson has painted an intimate portrait of the Kwanzaa celebration in a family setting. Woven into that portrait are threads of how Teddi and T.J. apply the seven principles in their relationship with each other. Jackson has created a format some families may even adapt for their own celebrations. These are the elements that make Love's Celebration worth a look.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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