I love novellas. Small books that don’t weigh down a bag or cramp your arm when held upside down, a book that won’t give you a bloody nose if it falls on your face when you’re reading in bed, and a beautiful cover that you can look at and breathe in when you need a moment to rest your eyes. Mostly, I love a clean, tight story that trusts the reader to unfold and connect without explaining every feeling, situation, and thought that passes through the narrator’s head.
As a writer, I’m always dissecting and editing the books I’m reading, cutting and cutting and cutting. In my humble opinion, I think most novels could be cut in half. I don’t like filler unless the book is meant for the inattentive reader who reads just to quiet their own mental stories, which is also its own beautiful thing. But the most satisfying read, for me, is when there’s nothing left to cut and the heart of the story shines big and bold without anything else distracting it. This kind of contrast deeply pleases my Virgo rising and minimalist tendencies. Our Small Faces is a sharp and clean novella that really hit the spot for me.
Jamie Moore set this moving coming-of-age story in her hometown of Santa Rosa in northern California. The story is about a small group of pre-teen black kids living in a segregated suburb sometime in the eighties or early nineties (We don’t get an exact time, but the story opens with a picture taken in 1949 and then refers to thirty years later, and then sometime after that. There’s also a Janet Jackson reference). The narration, which alternates between the voice of Selma, the only girl in the group, and Zeke, one of the boys, opens with Selma describing her physicality compared with that of her grandmother’s:
“My wide nose compared to her slender one, her delicate lips to my full ones. Her skin, like Momma’s, looked as light as the paper the picture was printed on. They called her yellow. Nothing like my brown. The only thing I carried of hers was small, even eyes.”
The reader is taken through childhood innocence, like playing games and talking about each other’s bodies as puberty and hormones arrive, then slowly through the harsh understanding of racism in a predominantly white small town. Without force and with easy and colorful images, Moore shows us the nuance and challenges—the micro- and macro-aggressions—of how racist actions play out, through everyday experiences like buying ice cream and navigating interracial dating.
This is a story about friendship, the way it changes as we discover sexuality and as we begin to understand the way our bodies are seen in the world in all of its forms—in race, class, gender, and personal identity. It’s about the way we communicate and the way we learn to say what we need to say, what we wish we could say, and what we wish we hadn’t said. Most of all, this is a story about humanity. We need more beautiful black women writers like Moore in the world. Our Small Faces is an important book.
JAMIE MOORE is a writer and professor in California. She received her MFA in fiction and is a Kimbilio Fiction Fellow. She is an alumna of the VONA writers and Mendocino Coast writers workshops. She can be found on social platforms at @mixedreader.
RAKI KOPERNIK is a queer, Jewish writer. She is the author of The Things You Left (Unsolicited Press 2020) a 2021 Minnesota Book Award finalist, The Memory House (The Muriel Press 2019) a 2020 Minnesota Book Award finalist, and The Other Body (Dancing Girl Press 2017). Her work has appeared in numerous publications and has been nominated for several other awards, including the Pushcart Prize for fiction and the Pen Faulkner Award in Fiction. She is a fiction editor at MAYDAY and lives in Minneapolis.