When adult Levonne Gaddy returns to the rural North Carolina community where she was born and raised, to attend her biracial mother’s funeral, the director bars her entry to the viewing room assuming she is white and therefore not related to the “colored” woman in the coffin.
Levonne easily engages the reader in a sad, funny, and poignant story of her childhood as she recounts a past marred by racism and the dysfunctional family life she left behind.
Her transition from racial segregation to the integration of southern schools; the challenges of her first job, at age eleven, as the live-in caregiver for an elderly white woman; a rape and the death of her father are all part of a past with which she struggles to make peace.
A gripping coming of age story about race, gender, and resilience in the segregated south. This is an honest portrayal of the love, pain and survival of one family, but it represents so much more. Gaddy’s trials reflect larger historical themes of intergenerational trauma. I read the book in one sitting, waiting to see the ways in which Gaddy and her family navigated deep racism, colorism, poverty, alcoholism, sexism, domestic violence and recovery. As I read, I found myself in awe of the author’s courage to feel the joys and setbacks of childhood and her fight to create a new family story, one filled with possibilities.
Helen A. Neville, PhD
Professor Educational Psychology and
African American Studies,
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Levonne’s writing puts me in mind of a combination Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Walker. Great stuff! …It’s the kind of book I’d want to have my high school students read.
Cynthia Couture, Phoenix, Arizona
The descriptions are excellent, the view of things as a kid are right on, perfectly balanced with the adult narrator’s perspective. Life was so hard, but so rich and poor at the same time. The main character’s parents both so beautiful, yet so flawed. The turmoil of the country runs through it.
Kyle Fordyce-Lytle, Gig Harbor, Washington
I was riveted by this book. Being exposed to this one child’s experience opened up a viewpoint [about racial integration] that had never crossed my awareness.
Carol Hughes, Sebastopol, California
I first met Levonne in spring 1988. That encounter was life-changing. Since 1989, I have taught “Betwixt and Between,” one of the first and longest-standing courses in the United States to deal specifically with the question of multiracial identity. Levonne’s narrative lays out how she, as a girl, identified with her African American, Native American, and European backgrounds.
G. Reginald Daniel, Ph.D., Author of More Than Black? Multiracial Identity and
the New Racial Order
Professor, Department of Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara
The book was easy to read. Made me laugh and made me cry. Genuine. Authentic.
Nancy Brown, Culver City, California, Author of Book Forward
I felt like I got to experience second-hand a childhood so different from my own. The author’s account of her childhood experiences really changed my perception of life in the south, having only grown up hearing about stories in newspapers and on television.
Susan Teed, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada
In the late 90’s, I met Levonne when my family and I participated in a photo documentary exhibition she created of multi-ethnic families. Three Red Suitcases is a well-organized account of her own multi-ethnic family history and the tumultuous journey from school racial segregation to integration in the Southern United States during the 50’s and 60’s.
Peter Likins, Ph.D., President Emeritus of the University of Arizona
A heartfelt story of a white-looking girl living in a black world a generation before my birth. I couldn’t put the book down.
Anna Batoosingh, Sonoma County, California
My passion for engaging, teaching and mentoring youth, particularly girls, was in full swing when I worked alongside Levonne at the Pascua Yaqui Tribe Charter High School in Tucson, Arizona. Her girlhood story is one of resiliency, confidence and strength of the human spirit.
Theresa Cariño, Co-founder/Executive Director Salud y Cariño
Three Red Suitcases is a compelling story of a girl caught between worlds and her search for self.
Joseph H. Nunn, Professor Emeritus, U.C.L.A.
Lovingly and humorously, Ms. Gaddy challenges our assumptions about the human family. Her writing is filled with insight about the joys we reap in enhancing and blending cultures.
Bernice Roberts, Tucson, Arizona
I’ve known Levonne as a colleague, mentor, friend, and artist. Her commitment to living in deep integrity with herself, her friends and family, and her community grew out of her roots and ties to her family and rural North Carolina hometown. Levonne’s book takes us through her upbringing to help us understood how her experiences shaped her.
Loretta Ishida, Baltimore, Maryland
Being a father, a brother, a friend, I felt helpless when I read about the girl in this book being violated by a relative. Her resourcefulness made me cheer.
Larry Wallace, Durham, North Carolina
I was moved to laughter and tears by Levonne’s heartbreaking and heroic story. The human spirit is truly marvelous!
Peggy Yeargain-Williams, Fountain Hills, Arizona