Seventy-two-year-old Johnny Ribkins has a unique gift: He can create maps to places he’s never been and remember his way to other locations by simply referring to the “map” in his mind. If the premise sounds a bit unusual, wait until you meet the rest of the family. First-time novelist Ladee Hubbard has created a collection of misfits like no other in The Talented Ribkins.
Each member of this black family is imbued with their own special ability, whether it’s being able to climb walls, catch any object hurled at them or spit fire. Not exactly Avengers or X-Men material, mind you, but fascinating nevertheless. For a while, Johnny and his extended family attempted to make good with their abilities by forming the Justice Committee, in which they fought for civil rights in the late 1960s. But their lofty ambitions and less-than-impressive powers proved to be an imperfect and rather ineffective combination.
When the novel opens, the Justice Committee is a long-forgotten dream, and Johnny is a simple antiques dealer, albeit one with an outstanding debt to an old mob boss. Facing a looming deadline to pay up or else, Johnny embarks on a haphazard trip across Florida to locate and retrieve the loot he and his brother Franklin stole and hid in the wake of their failed super group. The journey takes Johnny back to his old stomping grounds and to fresh encounters with forgotten relatives, as well as relatives he’s never met, such as his teenage niece Eloise, who joins him in his misadventures. Eloise, in turn, discovers her place in this bizarre world with each new hole, each new memory that Johnny digs up.
Hubbard’s tale ultimately transcends race, class and time itself as the pair discovers the heart of who they are.