Jamellah Ellis’s first novel may be more predictable than Washington humidity in August, but that doesn’t mean it’s old hat.
Marley Shepherd is a graduate of Spelman College, an associate in an Atlanta law firm, and the fiancée of Gerrard Shore, an up-and-coming member of the city’s African-American elite. A hundred pages into the story, Gerrard has left the picture and a family crisis ensues, leaving put-together Marley wholly undone.
Ellis weaves words so expertly that I occasionally reread them: “Not that [Marley] didn’t intend to handle the news like a big girl, a grown woman. She did. But a grown woman’s shoes are large: they’re hard to fill and even harder to walk in. She’d look like a twelve-year-old in stilettos if she tried it right now. So not yet—not until she could walk straight, and walk big, and walk right.”
Ellis made me laugh: After a fight, Gerrard tells Marley, “I know I’m going to have to make some changes, and I’m willing to do it because I need you. You’re my earth. You keep me grounded.” The next section starts with the reaction of Marley’s friend: “ ‘You’re my what?’ ”
A memorable scene on Thanksgiving (a day when “no one was thankful”) and the resolution of Marley’s problems left me rooting for Ellis’s heroine. “She had been thinking about him,” Ellis writes of Marley and the man in her life. “He had been thinking about her. They shared the same space with no effort, no pressure, no prying or prodding, no whining or coaxing. They were just there, comfortably. As though it were the only place for either of them to be.”
Ellis, who lives in Bowie, is a Spelman alum and received her law degree from Northwestern University. Two years ago she traded her legal career for writing. Both she and Marley have a bright future.