Series: Strong Brothers #1
Author: Kwana Jackson
Format: Paperback/eBook, 336 pages
Publication: May 19, 2020 by Berkley
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N
Rating: 4.3 out of 5 Wine Glasses
When their foster-turned-adoptive mother suddenly dies, four brothers struggle to keep open the doors of her beloved Harlem knitting shop, while dealing with life and love in Harlem.
Jesse Strong is known for two things: his devotion to his adoptive mom, Mama Joy, and his reputation for breaking hearts in Harlem. When Mama Joy unexpectedly passes away, he and his brothers have different plans on what to do with Strong Knits, their neighborhood knitting store: Jesse wants to keep the store open; his brothers want to shut it down.
Jesse makes an impassioned plea to Kerry Fuller, his childhood friend who has had a crush on him her entire life, to help him figure out how to run the business. Kerry agrees to help him reinvent the store and show him the knitty-gritty of the business, but the more time they spend together, the more the chemistry builds. Kerry, knowing Jesse’s history, doesn’t believe this relationship will exist longer than one can knit one, purl one. But Jesse is determined to prove to her that he can be the man for her—after all, real men knit.
Four boys from different makeups and ethnic backgrounds, brought together by their shared need of, first and foremost, a home, but probably more so the love that that the seemingly irreverent single Black woman had given them.
Instead of romance or women's fiction, I think this story falls under what I'm going to call community fiction; what a perfect time to read this. Jesse, along with his adoptive brothers, Lucas, Noah, and Damien came from different experiences and walks of life but found family in each other when their foster mother, Mama Joy, adopts them. As families are want to do, they love hard but also stretch, tear, and need mending. When Mama Joy suddenly passes away, the four brothers have to decide what to do with her shop, Strong Knits. Jesse is considered the wastrel of the group but he's the only one who doesn't want to sell, he wants to run the shop.
The tan knight and the used-to-be-man of her dreams, and there he was walking out his last night’s stand while she was cleaning his kitchen like a broke-down Cinderella.
Kerry grew-up around the Strong family as she found peace and comfort with Mama Joy at her knit shop. Jesse was always the brother that caught her eye the most but his womanizing and frittering ways kept her away. Kerry's recently obtained her degree in children's counseling and art therapy but not having a full time job yet, she still worked and helped out at Strong Knits. When Jesse announces he wants to try and keep Strong Knits going, she volunteers to help him out. Their relationship starts out rocky as both have strong protective instincts but their shared love of Mama Joy and Strong Knits connects them on a deep emotional level and heated glances have them wanting to connect in other ways.
She knew his strengths, but worse, she knew his weaknesses.
The natural flow of the writing welcomed me into this story and if you told me Strong Knits and all these characters where actually real places and people I'd believe you, there was a realness to this that will pull you in emotionally. There is a part of me that wishes we could have gotten a flashback or opening scene with Mama Joy and the boys. I missed “seeing” her with them but the author does a really good job of having the reader “feel” her through the brothers, which in turn I suppose also helps the reader feel Mama Joy's stark absence. I also would have liked more background on Jesse to help me get a feel for him too. I think it was around the mid-point when we learn some about what led to him entering the foster care system. Jesse just didn't feel as tangible to me as Kerry's character, she was more filled or flushed out. Kerry takes the lead in the story more than Jesse, even though I would still say the community is the overreaching star. Kerry struggling with what she wants to do, work with children and keep Strong Knits open but also make money, was a conflict I think a lot could relate to. There was also the clash of Kerry's feelings for the “bad boy” Jesse and not wanting to end up feeling stupid and hurt, which I know a lot can relate to.
Decisions must be made, and it was time for him to finally step up and take his place once and for all to be the type of Strong brother that Mama Joy always wanted him to be.
There was conflict, emotion, and turmoil swirling around and in Kerry and Jesse's relationship but, for the most part, it's in the underling of the story fabric; this story is subtle depth. Their falling in love, especially from Kerry's side, seemed to mostly be already in place from their childhood and I missed going through some of that emotional heft with them. I also felt like it wasn't until around the 70% mark that there was significant movement towards each other and the romance part of the story. However, because of the background these two had with each other and their chemistry and friendship, I really did believe in their relationship and that they would have a happily ever after.
Jesse felt his heart slam against the wall of his chest as everything in him and every part of him seemed to move forward at once to meet her.
What made this story special to me was the way the author integrated not just secondary characters but a whole community. The author didn't “tell” me how Jesse and Kerry felt about Strong Knits, she made me feel it through the after school program importance to a boy in the neighborhood, the Old Knitting Gang, and various other seemingly innocuous moments and characters that were woven throughout. I wouldn't call this a heavy or light story, just one made up of all those moments. There's talk of gentrification but also amazing lines like this when Kerry contemplates the man her friend Val seems to be thinking about taking home for the night: The way he’d gone in on those wings had her skeptical about his technique. It could be either very good for Val or an altogether disaster.
I'm still laughing about this line. The ending was very abrupt but as this is obviously going to be a series, I guess a down the line or epilogue could infringe on the series timeline. This writer's style, tone, and depth will have me looking up other books by her and I can't wait to snatch up Jesse's brother's books when they come out (there's a firefighter brother!). If current events have you down, this is the book you need to pick up to restore the love.
Noah stepped in, his smile bright as he admonished the crowd for their tears. Sounding every bit like a little Mama Joy, he told them, “Drink up, stitch well,” and then he looked at his brothers when he said, “Love hard and live in the moment, not in the past.”