Twelve Gates to the City is the much-anticipated sequel to Black’s acclaimed debut, They Tell Me of a Home. Yet, in part two, Sister assumes the voice of the narrator, speaking from the spirit realm, providing information that TL could never have known. She constructs the story as a series of spiritual revelations, exposing to readers both who she was in the years of TL’s absence and how every event in his life was an orchestration for his return. TL is back in Swamp Creek, to stay this time, but he’s still haunted by his sister’s death. He moves into his recently-deceased mother’s house and struggles to make it his home. His decision to become the Schoolmaster is the only thing he’s sure about, and his impact upon the students becomes palpable. But he still doesn’t know what happened to Sister. Not what really happened. He knows what Willie James told him in They Tell Me of a Home, but the story has too many holes to be complete. As he searches for ultimate truth, he discovers the beauty of Swamp Creek, and the historical role the town played along the Underground Railroad. Unlikely characters and events lead T.L. to know exactly what happened to Sister and unleash in him the ability to love and celebrate his people, especially his parents, more than ever before. By the novel’s end, Sister has ushered readers through T.L.’s story and the makings of his destiny. She’s provided the missing pieces of the original narrative, and readers understand clearly what forced him home—to this magical, mystical place—and that his life is connected to every life he’s ever encountered. Ultimately, TL realizes he was made from Swamp Creek soil and Swamp Creek shall now be his home forever.
What T.L. doesn’t realize, however, is how his presence impacts not only the children, but also the community in general. His return is part of his calling, Sister reveals. Residents have waited for someone like him to come and infuse the people with hope, vitality, and healing, and TL becomes just what their spirits desire. He convinces people, directly and indirectly, to take chances on themselves and live the life they’ve always feared. He is the bold one, the undeclared Messiah, whose presence urges people onward until they transform into people they’ve only imagined. Along the way, TL glimpses other worldly dimensions whereby he becomes clear who he is and why his return home was pre-ordained. In essence, Twelve Gates to the City is a novel of self-discovery, spiritual revelation, and communal healing, ushered in by one who finally realizes that his gifts were bestowed upon him, not for his own glory, but for the transformation of his people.