Review: Black, White, Other by Joan Steinau Lester

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Published: 3 January 2017

Publisher: Blink

Category: Young Adult/Historical Fiction/Realistic Fiction

Identity Crisis.

As a biracial teen, Nina is accustomed to a life of varied hues—mocha-colored skin, ringed brown hair streaked with red, a black father, a white mother. When her parents decide to divorce, the rainbow of Nina’s existence is reduced to a much starker reality. Shifting definitions and relationships are playing out all around her, and new boxes and lines seem to be drawn every day.

Between the fractures within her family and the racial tensions splintering her hometown, Nina feels caught in perpetual battle. Stranded in a nowhere land of ethnic boundaries, and struggling for personal independence and identity, Nina turns to the story of her great-great-grandmother’s escape from slavery in hopes of finding her own compass to help navigate the challenges before her.

Rating: 1 Star

A novel that strives to tell the story of a girl looking for her identity, White, Black, Other finds itself muddling these important issues and losing the voice that is so important.

Nina’s struggle with her identity was clearly felt, not only during the transitions between her white mother’s and her black father’s household, but during the interactions with her friends when they were discussing current events. At school, for example, her white friends made comments regarding people from black neighborhoods in Oakland, neighborhoods that had been ravaged by fires, looting. All those “friends” could see were people that stole electronics whereas Nina saw people that were getting things they needed, the people that were taking food, diapers, etc. The privilege of these “friends”, Jessica and Claudette, blinded them to the suffering of these people.

While there were moments of clarity regarding what I’m sure was the author’s point of the story, I don’t think that the execution of the story was well done. The writing style was slow paced and dull, several pages going by feeling extremely dry and feeling like real work rather than a good reading experience. It made it difficult to connect with any of the characters, to really get inside their narrative, which was a problem especially regarding Nina. The background characters felt like they had one characteristic that stood out plainly about them without any others being fleshed out to create a realistic person.

There were a lot of issues that got raised within the book, which would have been good if they’d been dealt with in a reasonable manner. However, in this particular book, it was like they all got thrown into a bag, shaken up, and spilled onto the page like Scrabble tiles.

I can’t at this time recommend other books that tackle these kinds of issues in a better way, though I will say that Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give has been getting all kinds of good word of mouth and sales for its protagonist, Starr, and her experiences with black issues including the Black Lives Matter movement.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

All pictures, quotes, and videos belong to their respective owners. I use them here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.
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