‘Meet Clay Brown’ — A Review
Disclaimer: Please note I received a free ARC of this book from Reedsy Discovery in exchange for my honest review.
A heroine who is stronger than she ever realized, Clay Brown’s true spirit emerges when her life is touched by others who understand.
Clay Brown has managed to survive in a cruel and loveless world since the age of ten, when she lost her mother to complications of HIV. She is surrounded by addiction and has been raised to feel deeply ashamed about “the virus” she was born with.
She lives with her father, Jimmy, who has descended into a life of bitterness and self-destruction since her mother’s death. He continually takes his anger out on Clay with acts of abject cruelty, such as destroying her only remaining photos of her mother.
She attends a support group for young adults with HIV. When asked to tell a little about herself, she wonders what there is to say aside from her diagnosis. She privately reflects that “According to Jimmy, I didn’t need school because I was gonna die soon, just like my mother, so I dropped out.” That tells a reader all they need to know about Jimmy.
But her mother made her promise to take care of him and Clay dedicates herself to keeping that promise at great expense to herself. The reader can’t help but wonder what on earth her mother was thinking.
The book explores the divide between hope and cynicism. Clay has every reason to be cynical, but has managed to retain a tiny core of hope for goodness in the world, instilled by the memory of her mother’s love and gentleness.
The Reverend, who leads the support group, is a pivotal character who represents faith in humanity and hope for redemption. But what is the impact on the people involved when this turns out to be unrealistic? For example, Briana is one group member whose mother reacts to her diagnosis with anger, shame, and a profound lack of empathy. She expresses only disdain for her daughter’s life in New York, including her friends in the group. The Reverend maintains that, “She’ll come around.” She never does, however, aside from grudgingly allowing Briana to come home as her health declines.
The Reverend even has hope for Jimmy to come around. As a reader, I felt like he had stolen so much of Clay’s life already; I wanted the new people in her life to recognize that she owed it to herself to stop worrying about him and leave him behind.
Milliner’s writing beautifully conveys Clay’s inner confusion and turmoil, as she experiences the worst life has to offer, continues to grieve her mother, and risks allowing herself to become close to the group members.
A major element in the plot involves a mural the group is creating, using artistic expression for healing. After they put their hearts and souls into the project, they face the likelihood of their hopes being dashed and all their work lost. As the book ends, there has not been a resolution to this matter.
In a way, that makes the story feel incomplete. However, looking at it more closely, this unknown aspect mirrors the lives of Clay and the other group members. There is no certainty for them.
I’d like to thank Reedsy Discovery and Christina Milliner for the opportunity to read and review this ARC.