Liara Tamani’s debut novel, Calling My Name, captures the experience of an African-American preteen growing up in Houston, Texas, during the late 1980s and early ’90s.
Taja Brown is on the cusp of blossoming—emotionally, physically, spiritually. While waiting for her flat chest to transform and wishing for other changes in her physical features (like losing the gap between her front teeth), Taja pushes the boundaries of her strict Baptist upbringing. First, she tries lying. Her momentary empowerment after she successfully gets away with a fib quickly morphs into guilt as she utters silent apologies to God. Although she is a good student, maintaining high grades is not the only thing on her mind. Kissing is definitely another, but it doesn’t amount to much during middle school. But everything changes in high school when she begins dating Andre. What Taja doesn’t know is that her guilt level will hit an all-time high when her parents present the young couple with Purity Rings.
A collection of 53 first-person vignettes, Tamani’s numberless chapters make Calling My Name resemble a journal. Grouped into eight sections—and sprinkled with moving quotes from notable black writers like Zadie Smith, Gwendolyn Brooks and Toni Morrison—these vignettes serve as poignant snapshots of pivotal moments in Tamani’s life. Although she jumps from one event to the next, Tamani manages to seamlessly tie Taja's story together in this witty and thought-provoking coming-of-age novel told from an African-American perspective.