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A story collection with characters so vivid 'you inhabit their bones'

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'Training School for Negro Girls' by Camille Acker
'Training School for Negro Girls' by Camille Acker
Courtesy of publisher

Every week, The Thread checks in with booksellers around the country about their favorite books of the moment. This week, we spoke with Hannah Oliver Depp from Loyalty Bookstore in Washington, D.C.

The first thing to love about Camille Acker's short story collection "Training School for Negro Girls" is the cover.

"It's got this stunning cover, which makes people who may or may not feel like this is a book for them pick it up. I love when people are creative with covers," said bookseller Hannah Oliver Depp.

The insides are equally stunning. "It's a short story collection, and this has been the year of short story collections, I feel. It has been a wonderful time if you like short stories or are looking to get into them."

"Training School" is Acker's debut, "which makes me really happy, because I get excited about what someone will do as they go forward," Depp said.

The stories in the collection are rooted in Washington, D.C., where Depp operates Loyalty Bookstore. "I think it's a love letter and also a bit of a harsh mirror to Washington, D.C., and also the lives that the women in Washington, D.C., have lived or are currently living through."

Acker's writing is "really, really astounding," Depp said. "She gets into characters' heads in a way that is just wonderful. You find yourself completely and utterly involved, and on the side of these women, no matter what is happening to them. 

"Sometimes you end up agreeing with or siding with a woman who — if you just looked at them on paper — you'd be like: That woman is terrible. Whether or not you end up agreeing with them, you 100 percent understand them and feel like you inhabit their bones, which is a really incredible gift as a storyteller. ... I think there's no one kind of woman and I think she really drives that home in the stories.

"She writes crisp sentences, which means that the book moves deceptively fast. I think you tend to page through it really quickly, and then sort of be hit, almost slammed in the face with a door, when you're done reading it, when you realize what you've been through emotionally."

The collection takes its name from D.C. history, Depp explained:

"I encourage everyone to look up the Training School for Negro Girls and learn about what that was, and the history of Chocolate City, and what black women have been trying to do for one another for a long time.

"To top it off, one of the best stories in the collection is about a TSA worker, so it's very timely."

Training School for Negro Girls Training School for Negro Girls