Ruth Fitz has always been quiet but after her beloved older sister dies during a protest, Ruth can’t bear to write or even speak more than a handful of carefully rationed words. How can she keep talking, keep doing the thing she used to love, when Virginia can’t do anything?
Grief hits the Fitz family in different ways. Ruth’s mother dives even deeper into her work doubling down as an Alabama senator and voice for social change both in DC and in increasingly frequent television appearances as her celebrity grows. If all of this work takes her away from home and the gaping hole Virginia left behind, well, sometimes that’s the price of being an activist, isn’t it?
With Senator Fitz away, Ruth’s father has settled into the unfamiliar role of caregiver and primary parent. A professor of African American history with his own cache in academia, it’s difficult knowing his wife’s renown is quickly eclipsing his own.
Ruth knows it’s impossible for her mother to turn down an offer to join a presidential ticket as the candidate for Vice President. But she also doesn’t understand why she hears about the news with her father and baby sister while watching the news. Having to travel as a family on a road trip over the summer to garner votes is equally baffling. Not to mention daunting.
When it feels like everything is falling apart, Ruth receives a letter. Really, it’s a scroll–parchment with a seal that reads WE ARE THE SCRIBES from Harriet Jacobs, sent author or Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl who was born in 1813 and died in 1897.
The scroll tells Ruth she’s been chosen as a scribe for the times. Which makes no sense when she can barely speak. Never mind coming from a woman beyond long dead. Ruth wants to question the scrolls. Maybe even ignore them. But somehow Harriet–impossible, wise, compassionate Harriet–seems to understand exactly how much Ruth is struggling … and maybe exactly how Ruth can get herself and what remains of her family through it in We Are the Scribes (2022) by Randi Pink.
We Are the Scribes is a standalone contemporary novel with elements of fabulism in the form of Harriet’s letters to Ruth and a powerful audiobook narration by Imani Jade Powers. Ruth and her family are Black. During the ill-fated bus tour for their parents, Ruth forms a friendship with Judy, the daughter of the presidential candidate. Judy is white and dealing with her own fallout from becoming part of her father’s political campaign.
Feminist themes are at the forefront of this story as Ruth tries to figure out how to feel like she’s enough for herself and her family. The trajectory of her mother’s political career also adds to these themes as both Ruth and her father struggle with their family’s new celebrity and what it means to be the relative of a senator whose star is on the rise–a struggle mirrored by Judy who has been burned by media coverage of the campaign and also knows there is more to her father than the smiling face he puts forward for the press.
We Are the Scribes thoughtfully explores grief and what it means to endure both through Ruth’s journey over the course of the summer and in parallels to Harriet’s struggles as a woman escaping slavery. Literary prose and meditative pacing make this deceptively short book one worth savoring.
Possible Pairings: I Rise by Marie Arnold, Vinyl Moon by Mahogany L. Browne, Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles, We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds, One of the Good Ones by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite, Sugar Town Queens by Malla Nunn, Who Put This Song On? by Morgan Parker, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams, Black Enough edited by Ibi Zoboi