Author: Jas Hammonds
My Rating: 5 Stars
Publication Date: November 29th, 2022
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Fiction
Format Read: Audiobook
StoryGraph Summary: Family secrets, a swoon-worthy romance, and a slow-burn mystery collide in We Deserve Monuments, a YA debut from Jas Hammonds that explores how racial violence can ripple down through generations.
What’s more important? Knowing the truth or keeping the peace?
Seventeen-year-old Avery Anderson is convinced her senior year is ruined when she’s uprooted from her life from DC and forced into the hostile home of her terminally ill grandmother, Mama Letty. The tension between Avery’s mom and Mama Letty makes for a frosty arrival and unearths past drama they refuse to talk about. Every time Avery tries to look deeper, she’s turned away, leaving her desperate to learn the secrets that split her family in two.
While tempers flare in her avoidant family, Avery finds friendship in unexpected places: in Simone Cole, her captivating next-door neighbor, and Jade Oliver, daughter of the town’s most prominent family—whose mother’s murder remains unsolved.
As the three girls grow closer—Avery and Simone’s friendship blossoming into romance—the sharp-edged opinions of their small southern town begin to hint at something insidious underneath. The racist history of Bardell, Georgia is rooted in Avery’s family in ways she can’t even imagine. With Mama Letty’s health dwindling every day, Avery must decide if digging for the truth is worth toppling the delicate relationships she’s built in Bardell—or if some things are better left buried.
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When I tell you this book wrecked me, that is a complete understatement. We Deserve Monuments is a young adult novel that centers Avery Anderson, a half Black, bisexual high school student whose entire life is forced to change when her family moves from Washington DC to Bardell, Georgia to take care of her dying grandmother. For Avery, the move came at a nearly ideal time. She just broke up with her girlfriend and had a huge falling out with the other member of their friend group. She got a lip ring that nobody seemed to like but she loves, and she’s just trying to figure out who she is. Still, moving to Bardell, a racist southern town where everybody knows everybody, isn’t an ideal situation.
Avery quickly finds a new set of friends in Simone Cole and Jade Oliver, two best friends who take Avery under their wing. Simone is a Black girl who Avery is instantly in love with, and Jade is a white girl whose family is so rich they practically own the entire town. In fact, Simone’s parents literally work for Jade’s. The friendship dynamics were powerfully written and felt very true to life. So much of this book was about reckoning with intergenerational trauma and the history which came before you. The past isn’t something you can easily escape, and that came up in the trio’s friendship consistently. As a white reader, I appreciated the way Jade was written and how she reckoned with her family’s racism. Although it was far from the center point of the novel, Jade provides a dynamic and ultimately beloved example of someone who works to protect their friends from racist family rather than flaunting them as a “fuck you”.
The true crux of this novel centers around the relationship between Avery, her mother, and her grandmother, Mama Letty. Avery’s mom and her Mama Letty can’t seem to get along whatsoever. Anytime they’re in the same room for more than a few minutes, a fight breaks out. This is the reason that Avery can hardly remember her last visit to her grandmother’s, and it’s also the reason that Avery becomes increasingly frustrated throughout the book. At 17 years old, she doesn’t understand how her mom and grandmother could possibly have anything to fight about that still matters after all these years. Hammonds did an incredible job of writing about understanding intergenerational trauma as a child whose own parent broke the cycle. Avery was raised in a loving, supportive household, in a city where racism and homophobia didn’t have to be the only thing she thought about every day. Watching her come to understand what life was like for the people who came before her was beautiful.
Simone’s mother, Carol, used to be best friends with Avery’s mother, and this parallel relationship pulled us into equally emotional territory. We Deserve Monuments explored the power of found family, of looking out for people who are like you, and the hurt that you feel when someone you thought you were close to just doesn’t see you. I cried so many times, both at the hurt that Avery and other characters experienced, and at the beauty that was created in hard circumstances. This book is truly a must read for anyone, and I will be coming back to it in my head over and over again as I work to unpack my own intergenerational traumas that still haven’t settled.