59 pages 1 hour read

Tayari Jones

Leaving Atlanta

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2002

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Summary and Study Guide


Leaving Atlanta (2002) is Tayari Jones’s debut work of fiction. Leaving Atlanta received the Hurston/Wright Foundation’s award for Debut Fiction, and Atlanta Magazine named it “Novel of the Year.” It also earned rave reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and from indigenous American writer, Leslie Marmon Silko. Jones, an Atlanta native, went on to publish three more novels, culminating in her best-known and most praised work, An American Marriage (2018). For the latter, Jones won the 2018 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work, Fiction.

Plot Summary

In the summer of 1979, a spate of unsolved child murders terrorized the African American residents of Atlanta. Three children—Tasha Baxter, Rodney Green, and Octavia Fuller—are fifth-grade classmates at Oglethorpe Elementary School, navigating the confusions of prepubescence while also living with the persistent fear that the kidnapper might murder one of them next. 

Tasha Baxter witnesses her parents’ unraveling marriage and their reconciliation—prompted by her father’s fear over his daughters’ safety. Terror comes close, however, after Tasha’s friend and crush Jashante Hamilton ends up missing—a trauma that causes his mother, Miss Viola, to go mad. Tasha’s classmate, Rodney Green, whom she thinks is the strangest boy in her class, feels unloved at home. His father doles out regular beatings and no empathy, while his mother is status-oriented and believes that Rodney should take pride in being middle-class. 

The only person who truly pays attention to Rodney is Octavia Fuller—a very dark-skinned girl who faces ostracization by most of the fifth-grade class. Octavia lives with her single mother, Yvonne, and copes with guilt over believing that her beloved Uncle Kenny got in trouble when she exposed his heroin addiction. After Rodney goes missing, Octavia’s distant father, Ray, calls and invites her to live with him and his wife, Gloria, in Orangeburg, South Carolina, where he’s a professor. Octavia doesn’t see the sense in this—the killer mainly goes after boys. More importantly, she doesn’t want to leave her mother. After Rodney’s funeral, however, her mother insists that Octavia must go because Ray can offer opportunities that Yvonne cannot. 

On the day of her departure, Yvonne and Octavia wait outside for a taxi. Octavia is wearing one of her best dresses and Yvonne dabs her with some of her perfume. Her mother’s scent makes Octavia cry. When her mother hugs her and tells her that she loves her, Octavia doesn’t believe her. She does believe, however, that after she leaves Atlanta, Octavia will miss her mother for the rest of her life.