Brass Ankle Blues is a coming of age story, following fifteen year old Nellie as she navigates a summer of self-discovery. She harbors anger towards her parents: her mother is in and out of her life, and neither give her the support she craves to figure out her mixed race identity. While looking for the familiar, (spending time with her family at their cabin at the lake), she is confronted with things that are new. Nellie develops a new relationship with her cousin Jess, falls for a neighbor, experiences the death of a grandmother, and other things that test her developing sense of self. Harper’s prose is delicate but direct, never giving in to lengthy, flowery descriptions; instead cutting deep to the heart of Nellie’s journey.
- “When I was seven I told my father that I wanted to grow up to be invisible. He told me to read Invisible Man. For him, the answers were always in books. I did read Ellison’s novel, but I seem to have the opposite problem. …[People] follow me with their eyes, their questions. They ask me things I haven’t even asked myself” (Prologue)
- “…my whole body has been covered with small brown moles…I think of them as the mark of miscegenation. I wonder if this flawed skin is the ultimate sign of weakness, evidence that my blood shouldn’t be mixing in my veins. …More come every year and by the time I die I will probably be covered. On my deathbed I will finally be a black woman” (18).
- Jess: “Your family’s something else. You’re all these different mixed-up things -” Nellie: “So what does that make us?” Jess: “I don’t know. There’s no one word.” Nellie: “Exactly…and until we come up with one, we’re black” (58).
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