A Coming of Age Quartet, a guest post by Krystal Marquis
Bildungsroman, a German literary term describing a novel about a protagonist’s psychological and moral growth into adulthood, is my favorite type of novel, and not because it’s fun to say. Though it is! I learned this word and many others in high school, where I was challenged to pick apart a main character’s journey in search of the author’s deeper or hidden purpose: the meaning of long hair, the symbolism of rye fields, and the weight of a lie. More often than not, the protagonists did not look like me or struggle with wealth or classism influenced by race. The characters of color rarely rejoiced, succeeded, or created. Usually, they were the best friend, or sidekicks, if they played any role at all. When I started writing The Davenports, I did not intend to write a coming-of-age story or four! I wanted to write the novel I wanted to read, the one I couldn’t find, and later, the novel I wish I had as a young reader.
At the core of any coming-of-age novel, there are three main elements the protagonist must experience as they transition from adolescence to adulthood.
First, there is a loss of innocence. Our hero, or in this case, our heroines, must discard their rose-colored glasses and see the world around them for what it is. It’s 1910 Chicago, slavery in the United States is a too-close memory, and the efforts of the Reconstruction Era are bearing fruit. Black people are occupying spaces in business and professions once barred to them. They are accumulating wealth, status, and influence. Olivia, the oldest daughter of William and Emmeline Davenport, has lived a sheltered life surrounded by crystal chandeliers, servants, and shopping sprees with her best friend, Ruby. Participating in her family’s philanthropy is expected, as is finding a suitable husband. Though her wealth does not always exempt her from racism experienced by people of color, it is not until she stumbles into a civil rights meeting that the impact of Jim Crow legislation and its threat to her way of life that she understands the extent of her privilege. Once she knows, Olivia channels her energy and resources to The Cause. Olivia’s naïveté allows readers to walk with her on the path of social awakening.
Second, the protagonist realizes that the adult world is complex and complicated. Sometimes being a grown-up isn’t all freedom and independence. Sure, you can decide when you go to bed, but that’s about as easy as it gets. The rules are different, the responsibilities are many, and the consequences are great. Suddenly, you’re expected to make life-changing decisions and sacrifices. For Amy-Rose, a friend of the Davenport children, now a maid, navigating the business world proves to be more difficult than having a dream and a notebook full of ideas. She’s determined to make it on her own while launching a hair care line and opening a salon. She’s passionate and focused as she defines how she wishes to achieve her goal.
On the other hand, Ruby desperately wants to make her parents proud. She finds that being the only child comes with its own expectations, especially since her father is running to become Chicago’s first Black mayor. His campaign is taking a toll on the family and their economic stability. Ruby, who has always worn their wealth like a shield, is forced to not only examine the value of her possessions, but also her character, due to the change in circumstances.
Lastly, the protagonist discovers that some long-held childhood beliefs are false. Helen wants nothing more than to work in the Davenport Carriage Company and help carry the family legacy. She’s a talented mechanic in her own right and plans to bring the family business into the world of auto manufacturing. Like Amy-Rose, her gender is her biggest obstacle and not one she’ll let prevent her from pursuing her dream. She’ll just have to be…creative. But carving a space in a male-dominated business is harder than she expected. A seat at the coveted table is not guaranteed just because her last name is Davenport.
I would be remiss to exclude one of my favorite aspects of my most cherished coming-of-age stories. I call it the bonus element: romance. First love is not a requirement of the bildungsroman but can elevate and add depth to a story. The romantic entanglements in The Davenports allowed me to explore different dynamics across socio-economic backgrounds. Love and heartbreak empower these young women and sets them on a path to deeper self-discovery.
I think about the novels I loved as a young reader: Little Women, To Kill a Mockingbird, the Dear America series and the ones I read as an adult and wish I had then: The Hate U Give, The Sun is Also a Star, Firekeepers Daughter, Well, That Was Unexpected. They are filled with the kind of representation I’d always wanted. Their main characters evolved in pages, letting me bear witness to their setbacks and triumphs, pain, and joy. Then I think of the historical context of The Davenports and the questions that brought it to life. If you don’t see it on the shelves, how do you know it happened? That it’s real? This is history too. I did not know, in searching for the answers to those questions, that I was looking for a mirror. Not one that told me the future or who the fairest in all the land is, but one that reflected my fears and hopes, that let me know that I was not alone.
The Davenports is that mirror. Not because each of the four young protagonists has some part of my journey but because of their capacity to discover who they are and learn where they fit in their world.
What sets my novel apart is the acknowledgment of the past and its celebration of Black excellence and achievement. It is in this world that the Davenport siblings and their friends navigate adolescence and love, despite their parents’ interference and Jim Crow legislation migrating north with every wave of Black dreamers seeking new opportunities. I’m excited for readers to join and pick apart their journey as they grow.
Meet the author
Krystal Marquis of Hartford, CThappily spends most of her time in libraries and used bookstores. She studied biology at Boston College and University of Connecticut and now works as an environmental, health, and safety manager for the world’s biggest bookseller. A lifelong reader, Krystal began researching and writing on a dare to complete the NaNoWriMo Challenge, resulting in the first partial draft of The Davenports. When not writing or planning trips to the Book Barn to discover her next favorite romance, Krystal enjoys hiking, expanding her shoe collection, and plotting ways to create her own Jurassic Park.
About The Davenports
The Davenports delivers a totally escapist, swoon-worthy romance while offering a glimpse into a period of African American history often overlooked.
“A fresh, utterly enchanting read.” —Ayana Gray, New York Times bestselling author of the Beasts of Prey trilogy
The Davenports are one of the few Black families of immense wealth and status in a changing United States, their fortune made through the entrepreneurship of William Davenport, a formerly enslaved man who founded the Davenport Carriage Company years ago. Now it’s 1910, and the Davenports live surrounded by servants, crystal chandeliers, and endless parties, finding their way and finding love—even where they’re not supposed to.
There is Olivia, the beautiful elder Davenport daughter, ready to do her duty by getting married . . . until she meets the charismatic civil rights leader Washington DeWight and sparks fly. The younger daughter, Helen, is more interested in fixing cars than falling in love—unless it’s with her sister’s suitor. Amy-Rose, the childhood friend turned maid to the Davenport sisters, dreams of opening her own business—and marrying the one man she could never be with, Olivia and Helen’s brother, John. But Olivia’s best friend, Ruby, also has her sights set on John Davenport, though she can’t seem to keep his interest . . . until family pressure has her scheming to win his heart, just as someone else wins hers.
Inspired by the real-life story of the Patterson family, The Davenports is the tale of four determined and passionate young Black women discovering the courage to steer their own path in life—and love.
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 01/31/2023
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
SLJ Blog Network
2023 Caldecott Jump
Cover Reveal: This Book Is Banned – The Latest from Raj Haldar (With a Helpful Q&A for Spice)
Ben Mortara and the Thieves of the Golden Table | This Week’s Comics
Love, Family, and Mental Health, a guest post by Rajani LaRocca
The Classroom Bookshelf is Moving