The Names of All the Flowers by Melissa Valentine
A compassionate memoir of a mixed-race childhood that humanizes the devastating frequency of black murder characterizing 1990s Oakland.
Set in rapidly gentrifying 1990s Oakland, this memoir—"poignant, painful, and gorgeous" (Alicia Garza)—explores siblinghood, adolescence, and grief in a family shattered by loss.
Melissa and her older brother Junior grow up running around the disparate neighborhoods of 1990s Oakland, two of six children to a white Quaker father and a black Southern mother. But as Junior approaches adolescence, a bullying incident and later a violent attack in school leave him searching for power and a sense of self in all the wrong places; he develops a hard front and falls into drug dealing. Right before Junior’s twentieth birthday, the family is torn apart when he is murdered as a result of gun violence.
The Names of All the Flowers connects one tragic death to a collective grief for all black people who die too young. A lyrical recounting of a life lost, Melissa Valentine’s debut memoir is an intimate portrait of a family fractured by the school-to-prison pipeline and an enduring love letter to an adored older brother. It is a call for justice amid endless cycles of violence, grief, and trauma, declaring: “We are all witness and therefore no one is spared from this loss.”
“Valentine’s heartfelt memoir of losing her brother expresses the grief of being a black woman left behind when a black man dies to gun violence, and the specific condition of growing up mixed race in Oakland. As such, it’s a portrait of a place, a person who died too young, the systems that led to that death, and the keen insights of the author herself. Lyrical and smart, with appropriate undercurrents of rage.” —Emily Raboteau, author of Searching for Zion: The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora