Growing up in Canada, Jael Ealey Richardson felt that she never fully knew her own story. As the child of Black Americans, her identity was different from other Black students at her school who could trace their ancestry to the Caribbean or Africa. But other than knowing about slavery and the civil rights struggles, she didn't know much about her family's history in America.
Everything she did know was what she learned from television and newspapers, her father being a successful football player in the Canadian Football League. What she didn't know were the factors and circumstances that brought her parents to Canada in the 1970's. The reason for this is her father never spoke about those times. He never spoke about his family or growing up in America and any time anyone asked him questions about it, he eluded having to answer them.
So when the opportunity to attend her father's high school reunion came up, Jael jumped at the chance to go and what came about was a journey that would answer her questions, help her better understand her history and identity and help her develop a stronger bond with her father.
The Stone Thrower: A Daughter's Lessons, A Father's Life by Jael Ealey Richardson is a riveting story about identity, race, football, family and history. Richardson's story about discovering herself and her father is one that everyone will enjoy and find themselves drawn to.
I was blown away by this book and I couldn't put it down. Jael's father was an undefeated quarterback in both high school and college, a feat that still hasn't been reproduced. And yet he was never drafted into the National Football League. To understand this, Jael looked at the time and circumstances in which her father grew up and attended school - Portsmouth Ohio in the 1960's, a time of racial tumult and social division. What she discovers in Portsmouth leads her to a better understanding of who her parents were, the life they built in Canada, and who she as a young Black woman in Canada is.
I met Jael at the Word on the Street festival here in Toronto last month and she took the time to talk to me about the book. Reading the book was like an extension of that discussion we had, it was as though she was telling me the story herself, not me reading it on the page. Her warmth, her honesty, and her desire to know her own story shone clearly throughout the book. You also get a great feeling for who her father is, a strong but quiet and private man, who found in football a lifelong love and the keys to his future.
This is one of those books that truly has something for everyone. Football fans will enjoy learning the story of one of the greatest players in the game. But you don't have to know the sport to enjoy the story of a young woman's discovery of her father's story and her own identity. I could not put this book down until I had finished it. Simply put, this is one of my favourite books of the year.