One Of The Good Ones: Grief, Hope And What It Means To Be Human
I like having an effect on people. Sometimes I forget that at the end of the day we are all just guts and hearts and bones pretending that we’re more.
Sisters and co-authors Maika and Maritza Moulite have included a very moving foreword in their new novel, One Of The Good Ones, which describes how they felt compelled, as older siblings, to write One Of The Good Ones for their younger sisters – a story about the death of a young black woman at the hands of the police, and the grief her family experiences afterwards. They name many of the African American victims of police brutality, or wrongful gun violence, but they also mention that there are many more people who are less well known, but we should acknowledge that ‘they were here too.’
That message, ‘they were here too’, is in many ways the core thought of this beautiful exploration of not only the issues prevalent in the USA but also the grieving process that a family goes through when they lose someone unexpectedly.
Kezi, an outspoken teenage activist is killed on her eighteenth birthday after she is arrested at a protest. Her family, including younger sister Happi who narrates a large amount of the novel, go to Chicago to collect a prize which Kezi was awarded before her death. From there, Happi and oldest sister Genny (as well as Kezi’s closest friends Ximena and Derek) decide to go on the road trip that Kezi had planned to celebrate her graduation from high school. Relationships are fraught between many of the participants of the road trip, and things do not start out well.
The plot of One of The Good Ones is fairly standard, at least in terms of the road trip parts. But it isn’t really a book about a road trip. I mentioned how grief plays a major part, and that really applies to Happi, Kezi’s younger sister. She and Kezi didn’t have an easy relationship and Happi is living with so many regrets as she processes her grief. There are some passages in this novel that are breathtakingly beautiful, and achingly sad. Happi has to learn to live with her grief and try to voice her trauma, but at the beginning, she just doesn’t know how. As the reader, you are right there with her, trapped in her head, unable to see a way out. It is very strong writing.
There are glimpses of everyone else, especially oldest sister Genny, also trying in their own way to come to terms with what has happened. Genny is not a point of view character, but the authors pointed out their own ‘older sister’ status in their foreword and you can tell that they poured a lot of the big sister experience into the character. As an older sister myself, I totally felt Genny’s determination to make sure that her younger sibling didn’t get too caught up in her own head, and how she was working hard to keep everything together not only for Happi but for their parents as well.
The real thesis of One of The Good Ones though is that notion of ‘they were here too.’ Kezi, at the time of her death, was what some people would patronisingly call ‘one of the good ones’, as though her good manners, academic ability and strong community focus are what makes her death tragic. As though the death of someone less impressive than Kezi is easier to justify or explain away, when in fact it is anything but. The novel rails against this idea and spends a lot of time emphasising that although Kezi’s family, and the rest of the world, are mourning her, she doesn’t deserve that outpouring of grief any more than anyone else, because everyone who dies in such a senseless and brutal way deserves to be raged over.
That message, coupled with a very realistic portrait of a grieving family, are what makes One of The Good Ones such a compelling novel. It isn’t a grim read though; it is in places uplifting and positive, and as Happi finds herself emerging from the shadow of her grief, you will breathe a sigh of relief with her.
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