What is the value of friendship? It means everything to Gail and Hanna until they grow up and life separates them.
And what do their racial differences mean? Nothing, until Southern expectations in the 1950s tell the girls something different. In Beginning with Cannonballs, novelist Jill McCroskey Coupe explores the way the friendship blossoms until Gail and Hanna go their separate ways.
Even before they do cannonballs in Gail’s parents’ pool at age four, Gail and Hanna have become best friends. When Bessie, an attorney’s wife and Gail’s mother, hires Sophie, she accepts the fact that Sophie’s daughter Hanna will move in with her. Sophie has fled from her home with a daughter she needs to protect from her husband’s suspicions.
The two girls have each other’s backs from the time they shared the same crib as babies. As children, they know little about society’s expectations, though Gail goes to a white school and Hanna attends a Black one. They don’t care what that means. They care about being together and sharing the adventures of cannonballs, Billie Holiday’s lyrics, and other young-girl adventures.
But they soon experience different perceptions of people, places, and things. And why wouldn’t they? Despite their devotion to one another, the world is teaching them who they are. In their late teens, the young women attend separate colleges and live in separate towns. When Gail reaches out to organize a reunion, Hanna becomes defensive. If not for their formerly close friendship and Gail’s determination to keep Hanna in her life, they might have forgotten each other. Needs can be stronger than defenses, though, and the support of their husbands helps.
In episodic chapters that span 50 years and several eastern seaboard states, Hanna and Gail work through tragedy, defiance, and the aging that mellows people. Coupe’s direct, accessible sentences combine with her depiction of complex relationships and the inevitable tragedies of life to make this a highly readable story. I recommend this book for all women—especially those of a certain age—and the men who love them.