Black Parakeets Only Hatch in December: A Black Man’s Exploration of Life, Love and Northwest Indiana begins with a disclaimer in the preface, explaining that although readers may not be African American, male, or familiar with Indiana geography, there is something in these stories for them. And that preface, though it may not be necessary, is correct: this is a collection of short vignettes that are, in many ways, universal. Author Chad R. Hunter begins his book by explaining its title. He says, “To me, every story is a little parakeet. It trembles in its egg, hatches and chirps some crazy details and unusual scenario.“ The little parakeets in Hunter’s debut are about his childhood and family, about coming of age, friendship, disappointment and first love. Each of the chapters is almost a short story in itself and each is a beautifully written reflection on the past and how it affects the present. Many are written from the perspective of the author as a child or teen, but with the keen observation of an adult remembering. There is a good deal of nostalgia here, but “Black Parakeets” is never maudlin.
Mr. Hunter has a gift for descriptions that are at once detailed, funny and poignant. In one vignette about Halloween, he captures both atmosphere and character perfectly: “Here I sat in my mom’s ’84 brown New Yorker. In a Predator costume my brother had made from papier-mâché. The world of my high school wove in streams of buzz and bustle, crowd and group. She looked at me and said ‘You only go around once.’ My mom.“ In another, about going to church as a child, he describes the various types of church-goers with affection and humor: “Church mothers were the old, old, old ladies. They still dressed a certain way but it was less important to them now. Many were slow in walk and small in stature. Their big eyes and wrinkled faces often frightened me as they reached for me as a little boy with wanting hands and creaking fingers. “
Black Parakeets is reminiscent of Sandra Cisneros’ “The House on Mango Street“ in that it gives the reader the chance to experience growing up in a specific place and time through the eyes of a young person. It is a charming, highly readable and engaging look at coming of age that does, indeed, have universal appeal. As promised in the preface.