Claps and Cheers: Toni Ann Johnson Goes Audible

by Tisha Marie Reichle

-5Remedy for a Broken Angel (Nortia Press), the debut novel of award-winning screenwriter Toni Ann Johnson (Ruby Bridges and Crown Heights) was awarded 2015 Beverly Hills Book Award Multicultural Fiction, received an honorable mention at the New York Times book Festival, won 2015 International Latino Book Award for Most Inspirational Fiction, was a Finalist for Forward Reviews 2014 IndieFab Book of the Year Award for Multicultural Fiction, and was nominated for NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work by a Debut Author.

Johnson’s talent for setting a stage and framing a scene contribute to the book’s cinematic quality: each moment could be emblazoned in film for audiences to enjoy watching after reading the book or listening to Toni Ann read it on Amazon, Audible, and itunes.

Harmonious one minute and dissonant the next, jazz provides the resonant back beat for repeated fiascos. Johnson’s characters reveal how complicated life can become when married to a musician.

Serena, a singer, and Rico, a Latino trumpet player, have a passionate marriage and “she craved him …The way he played … the rasp in his voice, the mystery in his black eyes, his muscular arms, and tight bum.” Their heated battles followed by equally hot reconciliation reminds me of too many unfortunate loves long gone.

Unfortunately, as their daughter, Artie gets older, Rico grows distant. Serena blames Artie when she hears Rico playing her song for their daughter in a private concert. “Why’s he callin’ her his angel? That’s my bloody pet name … After fourteen years, she was having a hard time making sense of how the marriage had come to this. One thing she did understand quite clearly: she was not his angel anymore.” Johnson infuses Serena’s outbursts of agony with her lyrical Bermudian English which makes the audio version that features Toni Ann Johnson so much more memorable. If you don’t believe me, ask her family in Bermuda what they think.

A mother so broken is bound to cause her daughter’s most tangible grief, and there may be no hope for redemption. Tired of battling for her husband Rico’s attention, Serena leaves her only daughter on Artie’s twelfth birthday.

Shortly after, Papi moves them in with a distant cousin and Artie’s relationship with Kendall begins. I remember twelve-year-old love. New and clumsy, the uncertain first kiss when all I could think, like Artie, is Am I doing this right?

But all that innocence can’t last when Kendall is a jazz musician, too. A tenor sax player. They know how to use their tongues. In 2004, “Artie drove home late one night when her husband Kendall wasn’t expecting her…A spicy fragrance wafted out the window into her face. Opium. Her mother’s scent. … Artie hadn’t seen the monster in years, so she was shocked to find her reclining in the passenger seat with her dress hiked above her waist. Kendall was upside down; the six to her mother’s nine, his face buried between her thighs.”

Johnson alternates between Artie’s and Serena’s point of view conveying each woman’s discomfort with relationships and constant longing for love. Moving seamlessly from 2004 to 1990, from New York to Los Angeles Johnson explores the boundaries of familial love, creating characters whose pain and joy is palpable.

While some of Johnson’s earlier work focused on social injustices, Remedy for a Broken Angel concentrates on personal problems, resonating with all readers who have faced familial betrayal. Infused with the melodies of heartache and chords of pure loneliness, Johnson focuses on themes of fidelity and forgiveness, chaos and karma, all leading to an unexpected crescendo.

wwspanelglasses_258Weekdays Tisha Marie Reichle engages high school students with socially conscious literature. On weekends, she writes. Her stories have appeared in 34th Parallel, Inlandia Journal, Muse Literary Journal, Santa Fe Writers Project, and The Acentos Review. For 25 years, she has lived in Los Angeles and earned an MFA in Creative Writing at Antioch University. She is currently submitting her YA novel to agents and working a new book about cousins who struggle with cultural and sexual identity in Los Angeles. She was recently selected as fiction editor for Border Senses – submission will be open in January 2016.

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