Author: BA Austin

Publisher: Crescendo Press

ISBN-10 0989504735: 13: 978-0989504737

Personal Or Society’s Recovery?

Young BA Austin grows up in the 1950s South with a prosperous family that seems to break the molds of the Southern culture, embracing changes and treating the Black nanny Karine as a family member.

The fictionalized memoir version of BA Austin’s self, in Smell the Raindrops, takes readers on a ride through a family coping with relatives, discovering alcoholism, and then facing depression that emerged with the addiction.

Yet the book’s message might confuse potential readers. The blurb on the front mentions the “young woman’s journey through life, love, and recovery.” However, the book’s rear cover cites a story set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement, the women’s rights struggle, and the tone of seeking equality for all.

Readers who want to follow the journey of a young woman will be pleased as they can see the anxiety of young Austin maturing. They will cherish the relationship between Austin and Karine as they feel the strength of Karine’s spirituality to combat obstacles. They will almost sense the wide smile from Karine who seemed to uplift Austin from disgruntled relatives or school problems. 

Austin reveals inner thoughts about how she viewed older relatives, or how the Memphis life seemed different from the California scene where her family had lived. She also details how she felt hitting the bottom of an addiction and saw the love from her family’s intervention. The process of the intervention unfolds, showing readers how techniques can be used to help others.

Austin pulls readers with her as she grows to see the differences of living in the Northeast when she goes to a New England school, and finds a classmate who introduced Austin to feminism.

However, Austin’s accent on how she responded to new things fails to bring the reader into the “backdrop of civil rights,” a description on the book’s rear. Aside from a brief mention of hearing about Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, and how her father introduced himself to a Black businessman at a restaurant, Austin’s sense of conflict fades away as the character moves onto another topic.

Despite Austin’s constant praise of Karine, she admits that she never really knew about Karine’s family, how she lived, what she studied in school, or what her hopes sought to achieve. While she said that she could never understand discrimination, she segues quickly into how Karine always protected her from her concerns. Granted that Austin was young and knew little about the Civil Rights Movement, but Austin offers no simple question or comment from her younger self about the events to her mom or dad.

In a similar manner, the introduction to the feminist world seemed brief. Austin relates the meeting of a classmate who surprised her with feminist ideals. However, Austin then shifts the flow back to how she viewed the college.

Part of the natural problem with the memoir approach is that a tendency occurs to TELL the reader information instead of SHOW those details. Simply telling readers that her family was open minded misses the visual scenes of what happened. As she spoke about Dr. King’s assassination, did she walk around the neighborhood and see any activity of a movement? Did she have classmates who talked about the protestors? What did they say? 

Did she ever visit the part of town where African Americans lived? If not, why did she avoid that. Or maybe she didn’t think about such a visit.

When Austin met the feminist, what exactly was the discussion? Telling readers she met such a woman as the feminist isn’t the same as hearing the woman’s comments on lack of opportunities in taking courses, or making money after graduation or wearing jeans, or the role of adding more female professors.

The journey through Smell the Raindrops taps gently on the window’s reading and the rain wets the appetite to see how families cope. Yet the rain might be too gentle in an era when protestors struggled for rights. The very focus on how Karine’s strength helped Austin coped with her problems almost dismisses that other world as though it was somewhat invisible. That invisible quality is exactly what many of those protestors wanted to avoid. 

Readers can judge for themselves whether they want to see a revealing way Austin develops strengths in life’s journey or whether they would have wanted to see how the blend of cultures interacted during the turbulent times of the 1950s and 1960s.