The black literature novel, A Quiet storm by Rachel Howzell Hall, is a psychological fiction with a strong religious foundation. The title stands as a metaphor for mental illness, an inner storm which although silent, can often be devastating for its surroundings. The author’s depiction of the strain of such an illness on not only the individual with the condition, but also their family, is incredibly poignant and realistic. Howzell tackling such an issue from an African American Seventh-day Adventist perspective over two decades ago was ground-breaking, especially when mental illness is still considered taboo to this day.

The author’s portrayal of the parents’ denial of their daughter’s mental condition, as well as their struggle to keep up appearances in a closed-minded religious community, is faultless. Their inability to cope with the public shame of having a troubled child, which let’s face it does not come without prejudice and gossip, is so well described we can feel the distress. The best part of Howzell’s work is her character development, especially that of the two sisters, Rikki and Stacy. Stacy’s lifelong burden of managing her parents and older sister versus Rikki’s desperation and denial about the diagnosis and her struggle to achieve normality by attempting to navigate herself out of an emotional storm is unbelievably moving.

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She was prepared to save the children. The storm was over… But medication fools you. You think that you’re back to normal because you aren’t crying or shouting at the top of your lungs…You think you’re doing it on your own, so you skip a pill here…You isolate yourself from friends and family. And once again, you’re totally off track.

A Quiet storm
Cover Of A Quiet Storm – Art by ToleNArt

What is A Quiet Storm?

A Quiet Storm is a story about an African-American Seventh-day Adventist family whose daughter is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Focusing on the relationship between the two sisters, Howzell demonstrates how the younger sister Stacy spent most of high school living in the shadow of her perfect sister, an African-American girl who seemed destined for the American dream, including Ivy League, great career, perfect house, husband and kids. Suddenly that dream collapses when Rikki is diagnosed, and the younger sister becomes her guardian angel of sorts. Stacy is constantly struggling with her physical health and relationships due to her proritizing her sister’s or mother’s needs. First by helping Rikki mask her inner storm or outbursts from her close-minded parents before her diagnostic, then later by hiding her sisters’ bipolar disorder from the religious community at her mother’s request.

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They contributed to the storm those Judases. They kissed her cheek and wished her well, but then said ‘’Told you so,’’ It never mattered to them if these rumors were true…That night when Daddy taught us about watching storms come. The same night when Rikki told me she had storms in her head.

Rikki eventually marries Matt, making them the ideal African-American couple, and even though her struggles with mental illness should fall on Matt, for better or for worse, Stacy continues to be her rock, putting aside her own life to protect her sibling. Rikki’s condition eventually becomes impossible to keep secret, but at that point her inner storm has become uncontrollable, dangerous and destructive.

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A Quiet storm
A Quiet Storm cover with art by ToleNArt

A Quiet Storm Review

A Quiet Storm by Rachel Howzell Hall was beautifully written, with excellent character development. Each individual, in particular the sisters, are complex, realistic and incredible moving. Reading the novel I was incredibly invested, exhausted and troubled by the Rikki’s diagnostic, but also by Stacy’s unrelenting efforts. I felt empathy for the pressure Stacy was under and sometimes annoyed at her submissiveness, but mainly thankful when comparing my relatively untroubled life. Howzell writing was filled with beautiful imagery, the storm metaphor for mental illness was poetic and well constructed.

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She wiped my tears with the back of her hand. ‘’I won’t be long.’’ She looked up at the sky. Lavender and gray clouds pushed toward the earth…Rumbles a few miles away cut through the forest’s silence. ‘’A storm’s coming,’’ she said. She took a deep breath and smiled…I saw my sister as she stood in the rain with her arms stretched her face to the sky, and her robe open.

The rollercoaster that is Rikki’s bipolar life was unbelievably intriguing, which is why the only negative point for this novel is that it could have been longer, since I didn’t want it to end. The relationships also are so realistic and really help understand the effects of mental illness on both the individual and their family. I thoroughly enjoyed A Quiet Storm and I must say if this novel is one of her less noteworthy works, her first too, I am quite excited to check out all her other standalone books and series!

Final Thoughts

Everything about Rachel Howzell Hall’s novel A Quiet Storm was great: the writing, the characters and of course the plot. Hall was interviewed several times, most often for her successful crime series, which apparently is infinitely popular, which means that there is a good chance I have found my next few reads!

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9.0
Score

Pros

  • Poignant subject
  • Intriguing plot & twist
  • Well-written
  • Complex characters

Cons

  • Too short
INTRIGUE
9/10
WRITING STYLE
9/10
STORYLINE
8.5/10
CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT
9.5/10

Final Verdict

Extremely powerful work. Well-written and quite poignant with great character development.