Gentrification, Friendship, & Disappearing Black Girls in Tiffany D. Jackson’s “Monday’s Not Coming”

Tiffany D. Jackson discusses the inspirations for her latest work, a thriller about a black girl whose disappearance is noticed only by her best friend.

At the center of Tiffany D. Jackson’s raw thriller Monday’s Not Coming (HarperCollins, May 2018; Gr 9 Up) is a crime that no one knows occurred. Thirteen-year-old Monday isn’t at school on the first day of eighth grade, but only her best friend, Claudia, realizes she’s gone. As months pass, well-meaning adults offer little more than concerned words. Monday’s favorite teacher reassures Claudia that there must be a reasonable explanation, and when Claudia goes to a police station in search of answers, a harried detective tells her she’s distracting them from looking for “girls who could really be in trouble.”

Jackson explained to SLJ in a phone interview that she was inspired in part by stories of African American girls and women whose disappearances went unreported by the media. “When black kids go missing, we have to start a hashtag or work extra hard for them to be found, but when white kids go missing, it’s national news.” She compares her novel to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (Crown, 2012), in which the presumed abduction of Amy Dunne, a young white woman, immediately triggers a media frenzy and a nationwide search. By contrast, Monday’s sole champion is a teenage girl.

In her increasingly desperate pursuit of the truth, Claudia becomes relentless, lying, sneaking out, and putting herself in danger. Both outcasts, the two girls found lifelines in each other, and without Monday, Claudia feels incomplete. Jackson drew from her childhood, when her closest and only friend was out of school for two weeks. “If my best friend was missing the way Monday was, I would have turned over buildings looking for her.”

Jackson’s years in Washington, DC, informed her writing, too, and she weaves references to slang and pulsating go-go music into the novel. Having seen both DC and her native Brooklyn alter devastatingly in the face of gentrification, she laces Monday’s Not Coming with pointed social commentary, as the impending closure of the Ed Borough housing project, where Monday and her family live, looms. “It’s almost like pushing against a tidal wave in a lot of ways, and it’s hard.” But, she adds, works of suspense can compel readers to consider issues like these.

Photo by Andrew Fennell

A longtime fan of horror and suspense, Jackson says that seemingly convoluted thrillers are the ones that manage to shock her. With Monday’s Not Coming, she veers dizzyingly between past and present, with chapters such as “The Before,” “Two Years Before the Before,” and “The After.” “I’m still a little nervous even now, hoping that people don’t get too confused,” she notes, but her willingness to take chances has resulted in a searing, gorgeously disturbing work.

Yet Claudia’s hopeful, at times naive voice imbues this melancholy narrative with tenderness, and the artistically gifted teen’s habit of assigning everyone around her a color based on their personality humanizes even the many adults whose actions or inaction allowed Monday to slip between the cracks. “I think everyone has some type of redeeming quality. Not everyone is the monster they are perceived to be,” says Jackson.

The author is treading familiar ground here. Her first novel, Allegedly (HarperCollins, 2017; Gr 9 Up), focused on a 16-year-old who may have been wrongfully convicted of infanticide. Jackson wants to continue to write gripping titles that encourage teens to consider the perspectives of even the seemingly unsympathetic. Kids are “still developing their empathy,” she says. “They need to be able to step back from situations, to step back and think about where people are coming from.”

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