Like the title unambiguously implies, Force Ripe is about a young girl’s premature experiences. The book is set during and around the Grenadian Revolution between 1979-1983. Because of her parents’ selfish life decisions, Lee moves in and out of different settings, locations, cultures and lifestyles, to which she is always forced to adapt. Force Ripe is written in a dialect quite relatable to most Caribbean people, making the story easy to read and feel.
While the cover leaves you feeling somewhat welcome to an intriguing story (as it certainly is), the reader should be amply prepared for a never-ending mix of emotions. McKenzie unapologetically makes the reader live through Lee’s entire childhood to her teenage years, making the subject of dysfunctional Caribbean families a major theme.
From Lee’s earliest years, her great grandmother, Mammy, had already instilled rejection and discrimination towards her. Mammy was always warmer towards Lee’s brother, Rally. Mammy may have been my favourite character because she was blatantly honest with her feelings, especially towards her family, while some reasons for her actions were left a mystery in the book.
Lee’s father’s visits seem to be the only real delight she had, and the occasional appearances of her mother. Daddy was part of the New Jewel Movement who overthrew Sir Eric Gairy and then he became a complete Rastafarian. Lee and Rally lived with their father who eventually, carelessly left them to their own demise. This is when Lee is taken for the wife and sexual partner of one of “the brethren” when she is only 10.
Throughout the rest of the book Lee is rescued by the revamped People’s Revolutionary Army, her mother and a “kind woman”, Claire. She tries to forget her past and bury her secrets in a “deep hole”. Lee lives in constant fear of being scrutinized, judged and rejected. She keeps mentioning covering herself in “darkness” which people constantly pull her out of. “Sometimes I does wish I could stay inside that darkness so nobody could see me. Because all how I try to forget that time, somebody always coming and talk about it and bring it back.”
There is absolutely no time to take a breath because McKenzie constantly plays with the zenith and nadir of hope. Her character development is exceptional and the simple detail of the settings makes the experience realistic. Every return of Lee’s mother made my eyes water and, as seems to be a slight trend for Caribbean writers, I was left with a feeling of disappointment at the epilogue.
So, my purest opinion? Kudos to Cindy McKenzie! She embarked on a courageous and perilous endeavour and resulted in nothing short of success. The novel is well structured with perspective on the Grenadian Revolution and some extra Grenadian spice (pun intended) on the typical, concealed story of Caribbean woman abuse.
Force Ripe is on sale at The bookYard, Massade, Gros Islet.