A stunning debut novel of two girls raised in hardship, separated by fortune, and reunited through tragedy.
Fourteen-year-old Audrey Martin, with her Poindexter glasses and her head humming the 3/4 meter of gospel music, knows she’ll never get out of Kentucky—but when her fingers touch the piano keys, the whole church trembles. Her best friend, Caroline, daydreams about Hollywood stardom, but both girls feel destined to languish in a slow-moving stopover town in Montgomery County.
That is, until chance intervenes and a booking agent offers Audrey a ticket to join the booming jazz scene in Harlem—an offer she can’t resist, not even for Caroline. And in New York City the music never stops. Audrey flirts with love and takes the stage at the Apollo, with its fast-dancing crowds and blinding lights. But fortunes can turn fast in the city—young talent means tough competition, and for Audrey failure is always one step away. Meanwhile, Caroline sinks into the quiet anguish of a Black woman in a backwards country, where her ambitions and desires only slip further out of reach.
Jacinda Townsend’s remarkable first novel is a coming-of-age story made at once gripping and poignant by the wild energy of the Jazz Era and the stark realities of segregation. Marrying musical prose with lyric vernacular, Saint Monkey delivers a stirring portrait of American storytelling and marks the appearance of an auspicious new voice in literary fiction.
About the Author
Jacinda Townsend studied at Harvard University and Duke University Law School before receiving her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She lives in Bloomington, Indiana, and teaches creative writing at Indiana University. Saint Monkey is her first novel.
A novel of immense depth and tenderness. Townsend’s prose recalls the music of Toni Morrison, and Saint Monkey takes us on a soulful and deeply satisfying journey into the heart of Appalachia, and beyond.
— Samrat Upadhyay, author of Arresting God in Kathmandu
Saint Monkey is an absolute marvel of a book. Jacinda Townsend is dazzling as she transports the reader to a different time and place—the 1950s, rural Kentucky, and Harlem at the height of the jazz era. Two young girls, Audrey and Caroline, fight for a place in the world and, though their paths at times diverge, their journeys and this writer will utterly captivate you.
— Roxanne Gay, author of Ayiti
This is a breathtakingly insightful, suspenseful, and gorgeously realized novel of cruelty and sorrow, anger and forgiveness, improvisation and survival, and the transcendent beauty of nature and art. — Donna Seaman
Impressive. — Carmela Ciuraru
Takes us backstage at the Apollo and into the smoky, late-night clubs where the art of jazz is fashioned before our eyes… The reader is buffeted by the transformative waves of race and music in America. — Jonathan Odell
Vivid. — Kasia Hopkins
Captures the imagination and the heart. — Jacinta Howard