Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson revolves around Strong Knits, a Harlem neighborhood knitting shop, run by the Strong matriarch, Mama Joy.
Jesse Strong is the youngest of Mama Joy’s four foster-adoptive sons. He is someone who has always been popular with the ladies — he loves them and they love him. Kerry Fuller is a part-time employee in the shop and has known Jesse’s mother and his brothers for a while now. Unbeknownst to Jesse, she is madly in love with him, but unrequited love seems to be her future, because Jesse has never paid her any notice.
Then, unfortunately, Mama Joy passes away. Plunged into grief, Jesse has to nevertheless figure out what to do with the shop. His brothers are all for selling it and washing their hands off it. But Jesse wants to keep Mama Joy’s legacy going because the store has evolved into a bit of a community center in the neighborhood — I really enjoyed the small town feel of this story.
What I loved best about this book is the deep sense of family that Jesse has. His commitment to his mother, his brothers, their Strong Knits shop…all show his capacity for love. And that is what draws Kerry in — their relationship is built on their love of Mama Joy and the knitting store. Bertrand Russell has said, “The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.” And that is how it is for Jesse and Kerry. Love is at the foundation of their story right from the beginning and it flourishes under their mutual stewardship of the store.
The shop is also the making of Jesse. He starts out as under his brothers’ shadow, but gains confidence in himself as the shop takes off. His relationship with Kerry also helps to ground him within himself and matures him.
Kerry and her journey are at the heart of this story. At the start, she is quiet and self-effacing. She likes being useful and is always there helping everybody around her. She notices everything, and she converts her observations into associations and memories and connects her innermost thoughts to her surroundings. I really liked how thoughtful and introspective she is. That is why discovering that she is committed to helping the children in her neighborhood is no surprise. It goes to her integrity, to her compassion, and to her desire to better others’ lives. As Kerry and Jesse’s relationship progresses, she gains more confidence in herself as someone who can achieve things, and also as someone who can attract a man who lives life at large.
As you can expect, knitting is one of the main characters in this book. Jackson makes the topic an all-absorbing integral part of the story and the Jesse and Kerry’s lives. I enjoyed reading about all the knitting goings-on in the store, but especially Jesse and Kerry’s discussions about it. Those discussion inform so much on their personality and that is what makes this book unique. Knitting is not just a plot device; it is what makes the book.
Real Men Knit is a good start for this new contemporary series for Berkley. I look forward to reading what Jackson has in store for us next.