Jamaica in Toronto: A Review of Tanya Turton's Jade Is a Twisted Green

Jade Is a Twisted Green
Tanya Turton
Dundurn Press
2022, 248 pp., $22.99

“...tongues heavy with Middle Eastern, Asian, European, and Caribbean accents. Colourful tongues match the vibrant tones of the box braids, saris, jersey dresses, sandals, lipsticks, and A-line bobs.” Anyone who lives or has lived in Toronto knows how diverse the city is. This line from Jade Is a Twisted Green perfectly encapsulates that. Tanya Turton’s debut novel tells the coming-of-age story of Jade Brown, a 24 year old first-generation Jamaican woman living in Toronto. Following the death of her twin sister several years prior, Jade continues to grapple with her grief while seeking comfort in lovers and friends.

As someone who has experienced various pockets of Toronto, the city itself felt like a character.

What I loved most about this book was the setting. As someone who has experienced various pockets of Toronto, the city itself felt like a character. From Kensington Market to taking the 504, Turton does an amazing job at painting the city, making you feel immersed in it immediately. She shows how people typically view Toronto during various parts of the year: “Once Bana rolls around, the summer is pretty much over. If you haven’t made the best of the short season of heat we get in Ontario, then this is the last weekend to do it.” Despite never having been to Caribana, once Caribana is over, it absolutely feels like summer is over, as we then prepare for a brief fall, then sometimes an unpredictable winter. Another gem: “It was a rainy day in Toronto, and the weather always slowed transit. People seemed to forget how to drive or move through the city.” Again, anyone who lives or has lived in Toronto would understand and relate to this. There have been numerous times where I, as a driver, wondered if people forgot how to navigate through the city carefully. Whether through rain or snow, it is as if people have forgotten we experience four seasons of different weather.

Speaking of relatability, this is another thing I loved about the novel. Although I’m no longer 24, I remember what it was like to be that age and trying to navigate the world to the best of your abilities. As you approach 25, it can feel like society tells you that you should be beginning your career by now and if you haven’t already, then you’re behind. More often than not, I have met others who, at this age, were still unsure of what they wanted to do. It can be easy to then compare yourself to others when you shouldn’t. Everyone is on their own path and truthfully, adulthood is hard. If we consider the start of adulthood as age 20 (because realistically, I still consider 18 and 19 to be part of your teen years), then when someone turns 21, they have had only 1 year of adulthood. If we compare that to a 1 year old child, how much do they really know at just the tender age of one? The way we give grace to a 1 year old for not knowing a lot is the same way we should treat those in their 20s. They are still figuring out who they are, what they want to be and do, and what they want out of life.

Furthering the point about how the author makes Jade relatable, there was a poignant line that I thought a lot of people, whether in their 20s or their 50s, could relate to—especially those of a racialized background where mental health isn’t talked about as much: “No one wanted to hear “I’m sad, depressed, and broke.” The alternative wasn’t much better: “I’m on top of the world and life is good to me.” Most people wanted the short, vague summary: “good, fine, can’t complain.” This is often in response to the question, ‘How are you?’ How often have you been asked that and chose to go with a similar vague summary?

As someone of a Jamaican cultural background, I loved that Turton did not shy away from the use of Jamaican patois in the dialogue. There were also a few lines of dialogue that included popular Jamaican sayings. One prime example was: “Duppy know who fi frighten.” It can be difficult to explain the meaning of this commonly used phrase, however, after asking older relatives and family friends, this was their explanation: It’s often used when referring to a bully or someone who treats another person they deem as lesser than them but wouldn’t treat someone else (say like a person they view as being above them, i.e. a manager, CEO, etc) the same way.

Would he go down the family tree, back generations, until there was at least one person who wasn’t from Canada?

There were other cultural moments that were very relatable. In a scene where Amethyst (one of Jade’s childhood friends) is on a date, her date asks her where she’s from. When she replies with Brampton, he responds with, “Naw, but where are you really from?” There is no one I know who is also from a racially and/or ethnically marginalized group that hasn’t been asked this question, despite being born and raised in Canada. I remember when I was 19, working at a Loblaws in a wealthy neighbourhood, an older white man asked me if I could slice a loaf of bread for him since he wasn’t able to use the self-slicer. While I sliced his bread for him, he asked me, “Where are you from?” At the time, I didn’t think much of the question or its implications, giving the man the benefit of a doubt. I chuckled then smiled as I replied, “I’m from Canada.” He then asked where my parents are from and I told him, Jamaica. Maybe to him it was confirmation that I’m not really Canadian. In retrospect, I wonder if he would have asked where my grandparents are from if I had said my parents were from Canada as well. Would he go down the family tree, back generations, until there was at least one person who wasn’t from Canada? Being older and wiser, it boggles my mind when people ask that question. But it’s not just white people who can be that narrow-minded.

I’ve come across Black Americans who hold stereotypical views of Jamaicans and believe that all Jamaicans are Black. Similarly to Amethyst’s date, who later states, “I thought Jamaican girls were, you know, Black” after she tells him her nationality is Jamaican, they seem to hold this belief that we’re all a monolith just because we come from the Caribbean. This monolithic belief stretches beyond the colour of our skin; I have come across two people in my lifetime who were surprised that I didn’t smoke weed, which, in retrospect, I now find highly amusing. Jamaica’s national motto is, “Out of many, one people.” This holds true about the culture of Jamaica because whether you’re White, Black, Middle Eastern, Indian, Chinese, etc, if you were born in Jamaica, grew up there or in a Jamaican household, you’re Jamaican. I recall a video floating around on social media a few years ago of a white Jamaican speaking patois. A lot of Black Americans in the comments asked how long she had been living in Jamaica to pick up the accent, as if her whiteness made it impossible for her to also be Jamaican.

If there’s one constructive critique, it’s that there were a lot of named characters, some of whom had chapters or scenes written from their perspective, and it left me wondering, why? For a novel that’s marketed as being solely from the perspective of Jade, I was curious why we had a scene from the perspective of Morgan’s (another friend of Jade) parents, Tayja’s (Jade’s ex then current partner) aunt, and Amethyst, to name a few. It made it difficult to remember everyone, especially when certain characters (like Morgan) appeared once and never showed up again. I could understand if this book was generally about grief and the ways in which people process it (which is what I think was the case), since almost everyone experiences it in their own way—whether by losing someone close to them or their innocence.

Within the body of existing contemporary Canadian literature, this novel provides a realistic but intriguing take on grief, mental health, the Jamaican culture within Toronto, and living in Toronto in general.

Within the body of existing contemporary Canadian literature, this novel provides a realistic but intriguing take on grief, mental health, the Jamaican culture within Toronto, and living in Toronto in general. When it came to the latter, none of the characters owned a home. Even Amethyst had 3-4 roommates living with her. #TorontoCostofLiving. I’m interested in what Tanya Turton will write next. Hopefully, it will be just as culturally diverse and relatable as Jade Is a Twisted Green.

About the author

Nikki H. is a writer, book reviewer, and manuscript evaluator. She studied English Literature and Creative Writing in university, and her first book review was published in 2019 with PRISM International. In her free time she reads graphic novels and web comics, watches cooking and baking competitions on Food Network, and enjoys Judge Judy cases on YouTube. You can view her portfolio at writerlyexpressions.weebly.com and find her on Twitter at @jeveuxharibo.