“They gave Jada an ultimatum: do the work or get kicked out. Ayanna delivered the news during indie. ‘You’re here to face what happened, learn from it, and thrive.’”
These are the opening lines from LaToya Jordan’s novella “To the Woman in the Pink Hat” published by Aqueduct Press in March 2023. Aqueduct’s mission is to “bring challenging feminist science fiction to the demanding reader.” Jordan’s novella, part of the press’ “Conversation Pieces”, does just that.
Without giving away too much of the masterful plot which Jordan unravels at a steady pace, we soon learn that Jada is a young Black woman in the year 2040. She’s committed a violent crime and is now confined to the Center, an alternative to prison and place where she is to undergo rehabilitation in the form of various therapy sessions. Ayanna is her AI therapist who plays good cop / bad cop with her human therapist, Zoe. Both therapists have the goal of getting Jada to relive and confront her crime whether in the world of her mind or that of virtual reality.
Despite the odd fact that Jada and the other young women in the center are called “Leaders”, the set up seems straight forward. That is until we begin to learn more of Jada’s background. Prior to her crime, she was a member of the SUs.
“People already called us a gang, but we called ourselves a movement. Someone on the social came up with the moniker SU, and we went with it. It stood for stolen uterus and we thought Sue sounded safe and all-American for a group of brown girls out for justice … and maybe a little blood.”
Ah, here we are into the Sci-Fi part. A group of girls whose uteruses have been stolen? A movement which some view as a gang?
It’s impossible to read “The Woman in the Pink Hat” without thinking about the last few years. Years in which Black Lives Matter has been vilified. Years in which a 13-year-old Black girl in Mississippi is raped and forced to give birth in a post-Dobbs nation (https://time.com/6303701/a-rape-in-mississippi/). And years in which Black and brown skinned immigrants are said to “be poisoning the blood” by the former president.
Late in the novella, Jada recalls a speech she delivered to her fellow SUs before her arrest. “The people who did this wanted to hurt us so they could go back to a time when Black folk are ruled by them. They were afraid of what would happen in a country where they were outnumbered by POCx.”
These words ring all too true in 2024, taking us from the future to the present and it was impossible to read the novella without surges of anger in which I had to put the book down and breathe.
But Jordan’s work is storytelling and not political allegory. There’s a strong narrative with Jada as a compelling and very human character at its center. As more of her backstory is revealed, we are moved by her family history. No spoilers here, but readers will come across an intimate and beautifully rendered scene from her past.
Ultimately, Jordan answers the major plot questions including the identity of the woman in the pink hat and the true purpose of the Center. But the age-old questions of justice remain and Jordan ends the novel with a homage to a timeless quote from a leader in a previous age.
“To the Woman in the Pink Hat” succeeds as story and conversation piece leaving us plenty to think about as we await the next work from Jordan.