Alice Walker originally wrote this review of The Almost Year by Florence Engel Randall for the New York Times in 1971. Although it is book review, it also manages to express some of Walker’s ideas about race relations and social justice.
In The Almost Year, a young Black girl from the inner city is left by her aunt with a rich, White, suburban family for nine months. The girl is resentful and refuses all the affection and good intentions the family bestows upon her. All the food and clothes the family has at their disposal seem wasteful to this child from the ghetto. She acts out by creating a poltergeist in the house that acts very destructively toward the family’s belongings. Although the reader knows the poltergeist isn’t real, the girl shows genuine fear of the monster she has created. She and the mother go to the attic to confront the ghost, and the girl allows the mother to comfort her for the first time. In the attic, the girl sees only herself looking back at her, and from then on, there is no more destructive spirit living in their home.
Although Walker gives Randall much credit for writing a book that feels honest and free from typical White platitudes about helping Black children, she is skeptical that the stay in the house with the rich people benefited the girl in any meaningful way as Randall proclaims.
After all, the girl is sent back to live in abject poverty after her visit is over. The friendship and well-meaning if the family was only a temporary gift, given and then taken away. Walker does not find this fair or helpful to a girl who has no hope of ever living in her own big house with lots of clothes and food.
Most Black social critics would claim that there isn’t really anything a rich, White family could do to help a Black child from the city projects. In fact, most Black social critics would like to see White, well-meaning people disappear if they really want to help race inequality. While Walker finds this to be a rather cold solution to the problem, she does wish the book advocated for some sort of social change. If White, suburban families really want to do something about Black poverty, they would do better by offering something other than temporary shelter. Instead, Walker would have liked to see the White family politically active and involved in radical social change the girl could count on for some kind of future.