This was a book club pick and if y’all are thinking of what to read for your next book, definitely consider this one.
Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I., becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy after a fateful morning on their Chicago rooftop.
Forced to move to a new city, with her strict African American grandmother as her guardian, Rachel is thrust for the first time into a mostly black community, where her light brown skin, blue eyes, and beauty bring a constant stream of attention her way. It’s there, as she grows up and tries to swallow her grief, that she comes to understand how the mystery and tragedy of her mother might be connected to her own uncertain identity.
This searing and heartwrenching portrait of a young biracial girl dealing with society’s ideas of race and class is the winner of the Bellwether Prize for best fiction manuscript addressing issues of social justice.
What I liked about this book was that it opens the doors for discussion on mixed race, race in America and what that looks like from those who are intimately connected. I haven’t come across many novels (very few in fact) that deal with mixed race. This was a story very close and I felt deeply personal to the author’s heart (many parts of the story are her own) and I really appreciated what she did with it.
“We and lonely don’t belong in the same sentence.”
While I really enjoyed the story, the writing style and flow of the story sometimes distracted my reading experience. The book jumped back and forth between the narrator’s present and past, but early on it wasn’t clear. Of course, as a reader, I was able to catch on because certain point of views meant certain time frames, but early on it interrupted the flow of the story. Certain parts of the novel I completely understood (having heard this from my family who grew up in the segregated south):
“I don’t wear sunscreen that Grandma tells me to. “Stay outta that sun. It’ll make you dark and dusty,” she says. I tell her that she is perpetuating racist ideas from slavery. There’s nothing wrong with being dark-skinned. Like Drew says, I tell her: Black folks have to stick together. She doesn’t like me to sass her. It’s what her mother taught her and she’s passing it on. But she hushes up then.”
This was a story about this young girl finding her way and the journey wasn’t easy. She had quite a bit go against her early on, so throughout the novel you are rooting for her and through the mishaps and hard times, the author takes you right along with Rachel. I do wish she would have dived in a little deeper with Rachel. There were keys parts of the novel that were quickly glossed over where I would have loved to see how she dealt with that. I think they would have helped the reader understand Rachel even more.
Also, I could have totally read certain parts too fast, but another thing I noticed was Rachel’s voice changed as she was in her environment during key years (which was understandable), but later in the novel, her voice was back to as it was at the beginning. I was curious why the shift. I also wanted more closure to the book. It ended wide open.
This was a great book to discuss for book club and while there were a few things stylistically that I had to work through, I’m glad I read this book and would recommend people reading it as well.
Have you had a chance to read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it!
(Heads up: minor language and adult themes)