Saturday, June 20, 2009

Black Girl/White Girl (2007)

During the summer months I try to read "adult" books since I can devote more undistracted hours to reading, whether it be outside on the deck or enjoying a balmy evening on top of the covers of my bed. I buy books off the clearance rack and from new releases, I read books waiting patiently for me in piles around the house, and I pull books off my library's shelf as I perform an inventory. My first summer book was by Joyce Carol Oates, an author new to me.

This book reminded me a little of Davita's Harp since both books are about extremely bright, young women raised among liberal activists and, for the most part, without a father, as Genna's father is constantly on the move, hiding from the feds. Her mother is not occupied by her work like Davita's, but by drugs and self-pity.

In 1974, Genna goes to a liberal, all-female college in Virginia founded by wealthy ancestors and is eager to become friends with her black roommate, a scholarship student from Washington D.C. who seems to have enough in her life (religion and family) to not befriend anyone at the school. The story is told from Genna's viewpoint as she tries to support Minette through several instances of racism.

The genius of this book is that like Genna, we are not offered any insight into Minette's lack of response to Genna. While this book could have been, like so many, a cross-race friendship story, instead is how people from different backgrounds may never cross the race divide. Like Genna's father wrote:

"Some truths are lies. Some lies are truths. For all human utterances are provisional and expedient. And what we wish to believe to be REAL is but our political perspective and our political perspective is determined by race, class, social privilege from which we must be wakened to be free to throw off our skin-consciousness which is our collective blindness and sometimes that awakening must be violent for there is no other way."

This is an outstanding book and I recommend it to people who enjoy good character development stories.

My rating for this book: ++++

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