Fifth Born : A Novel
by Zelda Lockhart

Published: 2003-08-19
Paperback : 224 pages
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When Odessa Blackburn is three years old her beloved grandmother dies, and so begins her story, set in St. Louis,Missouri, and rural Mississippi. As the Þfth born of eight children, Odessa loses her innocence at Þrst when her drunken father sexually abuses her, and then again when she ...
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When Odessa Blackburn is three years old her beloved grandmother dies, and so begins her story, set in St. Louis,Missouri, and rural Mississippi. As the Þfth born of eight children, Odessa loses her innocence at Þrst when her drunken father sexually abuses her, and then again when she alone witnesses her father taking the life of his own brother.
Fifth Born is Zelda Lockhart's debut novel, lyrically written and powerful in its exploration of how secrets can tear apart lives and families. It is a story of love, longing, and redemption, as Odessa walks away from those whom she believes to be her kin to discover the true meaning of family.

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Chapter One:The Funeral

When we pulled off in the station wagon to head home to St. Louis, Granmama stood in the wake of dirt and rocks waving, her black hair blowing violently in the wind of the storm that we were leaving. I watched Granmama from the back of the station wagon until first her copper skin faded into the colors of the landscape, and then the speck that was her dress drifted, as if blown by the wind, out of the road and up the stairs of her front porch. That was the last time I saw her. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the Publisher:

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Odessa, the protagonist in Fifth Born, lives her life as a series of turbulent relationships. A most interesting relationship evolves between Odessa and her cousin Gretal. Discuss the nature of their unlikely alliance.

2. In Chapter One, Odessa claims, "Mama could tell a story." Indeed, Mama tells and retells many stories. Discuss the discrepancy between the truth that Odessa knows from Mama and the truth she comes to learn from Ella Mae's climactic story in the novel's final chapters.

3. In the novel's beginning chapters especially, the narrator, Odessa, spends a great deal of time describing the complexion and/or hair texture of her family members. Discuss how the family's treatment of color affects Odessa's self-esteem.

4. In Chapter Four, while being sexually assaulted by "Deddy," Odessa's mind wanders to a vision of Granmama on the porch, where she "climbed up in her lap." With such harsh images of reality crowding her brain, Odessa often escapes through imagination. Discuss the role of imagination and fantasy in Odessa's life.

5. By Chapter Four, Mama's crafty ways of recreating the truth become quite evident. What do you suppose is Mama's motivation for perpetuating secrecy and protecting Deddy's malicious behavior? Is anything gained from this secrecy? If so, at what or whose expense?

6. In the first chapter Odessa admits, "I was always crying..." Because of her helplessness and vulnerability, she is often bullied. However, the summer Odessa turns ten, she realizes that she "couldn't let there be any more cry baby-baby." Give examples of how Odessa begins to stand her ground.

7. With the exception of the "sanctified" Uncle Chet and Aint Fanny, the Blackburns do not seem too concerned with religion. How does God and religion factor into Odessa's life?

8. After Uncle Leland's death, Mama and Deddy take over his businesses and inherit the profits. How does this newfound wealth affect the Blackburn family? What changes? What stays the same?

9. At the end of the novel, Odessa goes from being "fifth born" to first born, as we discover that she is Ella Mae's child. How do you think this information will affect Odessa's future?

10. Considering the circumstances surrounding Odessa's birth, and the tense relationship between Ella Mae and Granmama, why do you think Odessa was Granmama's favorite?

11. Do you think Odessa would be able to adapt to a new life in rural Mississippi, away from the family she has known all her life?

12. Does Fifth Born have a happy ending? Support your answer.

13. Discuss the cycles of incest, secrecy and shame that are perpetuated through at least two generations of the Blackburn/Lacey families.

14. When Ella Mae tells her story to Odessa, it is hard for Odessa to hear things about her granmama. Odessa says, "I couldn't stand that someone who I only knew as a ghost was undoing my memories of my granmama, the one love I had understood all of my life." After hearing everything, how do you think Odessa will feel about her beloved granmama?

15. Although Gretal is "saved," she still feels "like cain't nothing keep me from sin and sin from me." Discuss how Odessa feels this similar hopelessness after she gets baptized.

Copyright © 2002 by Zelda Lockhart

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "Good Discussion Book"by Wits-End (see profile) 01/22/07

THis books was very good discussion book. The open ending allows for a lot to discuss. The storyline is one you keep asking yourself "how does a woman allow these things to happen to her child?"

  "Achild has a tough childhood a discovers many mind altering facts about her childhood"by maliyact (see profile) 01/21/07

It was a very good book, that makes you pull for a litte girl that had been very badly mistreated by her family. The people who were suppose to protect her where hurting her most. The book started off... (read more)

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