Between the Pages • The Story of Joyce A. McDonald: Review

Between the Pages: Where Trials Become Triumph!
by Thaïs Sherell J.
N-Spired Productions

Reviewed by Chael Needle

My stepmother used to tell me stories about Jesus, but they were not your ordinary parables. They were set in dark forests more suited to Hansel and Gretel than the hot, sunny settings of the Bible. They featured ragamuffin children, rather than wise men in tunics. Clearly these were hybrid folk tales that linked my stepmother’s Italian roots with Christianity. And I was reminded of these syncretic fables when I read Between the Pages: Where Trials Become Triumph!, the story of Joyce A. McDonald as told by Thaïs Sherell J., because both re-energize lessons about faith by attuning them to the needs of the listener, or reader, in this case.

In clear and sterling prose, Between the Pages follows Brookyln-based artist and HIV advocate Joyce A. McDonald from a childhood, made joyful by her mother and father and made hurtful by colorism and a neighbor’s molestation of her at a tender age, to a young adulthood with its ups (forming a girl group and winning acclaim) and its downs (skipping school; an arrest that no one can see is a mistake, and it is; and experiments with living on her own that quickly turn sour). An abusive relationship with a man and, later, enforced sex work keeps her mind, body and spirit hostage. Substance use dulls her sense of agency and prevents her from raising her children independently. Though her self-esteem is chipped away, Joyce always finds comfort and support in her family. Ultimately, she finds a renewed sense of hope and direction for her life when God answers her prayers.

She is one day led, propelled unconsciously to a mass, awakened by the pastor’s call: “It was like the Invasion of the Body Snatchers but better. I had no recollection of walking to the altar, but I found myself there, kneeling on my bloodied knees in an act of surrender. And while at the altar, something changed. I declared that my life was not my own; I needed a savior, and I accepted Jesus, the Son of God, to come into my life and be my personal savior.” And then, in church, she was encouraged to share her artwork and her story of acquiring HIV. With her “amazing testimony,” she had found her purpose.

The book becomes just one more way that Joyce A. McDonald can testify. As a portrait of risk, in an environment whose edges are made sharp by racial and gender oppression, Between the Pages is a clarion call for women everywhere to name the wolves that chase them and start the healing by turning prey into pray.

Chael Needle is Managing Editor of A&U. Follow him on Twitter @ChaelNeedle.