Janet McDonald once wrote about her mis-adventure with psychic Sylvia Brown. The experience was much less than she’d anticipated and she spoke of the sick, sinking feeling that came over her as the reality that the reading was more scam than paranormal science.
It didn’t shock me that McDonald consulted a psychic. Many of us are curious about our futures, even if we never take steps to actually peer into them.
What shocked me was that the author’s questions for the psychic were more aligned with “what’s the greater meaning of life” than – will my book (at the time Project Girl) be best selling? Or, how do I make them best selling?
Perhaps as an attorney – analytical and practical by profession, and a member of Mensa, McDonald knew such answers weren’t for her to know since they couldn’t be controlled. So it would have been a waste of a question. Or maybe, McDonald knew that one of the secrets of being a sane author was letting her stories speak for themselves.
Perhaps it’s as it should be. A search on Janet McDonald’s name yields more eulogies than coverage during her successful writing run.
So, the stories speaking it is.
Before she passed of cancer in 2007, at the age of 53, Janet McDonald blessed the literary world with six YA books. A self-proclaimed project girl, she rose from them – living in Paris at the time of her death, and never let the stories of young people who were products of the projects go unheard.
From the trilogy of stories that followed the young ladies of the Hillside House housing project, to her two “boy” books – Brother Hood and Harlem Hustle, McDonald’s stories always focused on rising above circumstances. Although her characters were urban, McDonald’s stories are far from crying inner city blues. Instead, they focus on the character’s inner strength and how they used their surroundings to succeed.
We celebrate the work of Janet McDonald in hopes that her books find their way into the hands of young readers, today and beyond.
Project Girl – McDonald’s debut was a memoir about her days as a bookish teen Brooklynite. Hard hitting and real, the book covers her heroin use, her love affair with Paris and life while being Black in the Ivy League world of Vassar and Columbia University.
Off-Color – Flipping the script on her in-the-hood take, McDonald tells the story of Cameron, a white teen who moves from a working class neighborhood to public housing. A fresh spin on acceptance and fitting in.
The Buzz on Janet McDonald’s Work
“One of the best of the many recent stories about teens in the city projejcts, this first novel is read-aloud funny, even as it tells the harsh truth about how hard it is to break free.” –Starred, Booklist (Spell bound)
“McDonald deserves kudos for her gritty, unsentimental portrait of day-to-day life in the projects.” –Kirkus Reviews (Chill Wind)
“Janet McDonald brings the dreams and personal battles of the Hillbrook Houses residents to life…The author offers an even balance of hardship and humor as the determined teens combat their many obstacles.” –Publishers Weekly (Twists and Turns)
“A vibrant spectrum of oral expression that brings both Hustle and New York City vividly to life.” –The Horn Book (Harlem Hustle)
“Readers will enjoy Cameron’s attitude which, despite her roller-coaster moments of anger and sadness, is relentlessly upbeat as she explores what it means to be black—and white.” —The Chicago Tribune (Off-Color)