In this witty take on 1980s Philadelphia, a young girl comes of age and learns to navigate love, loss, school and family.
Kenya, whom we meet at age 7 and watch graduate from high school into womanhood, is the daughter of Afrocentric parents. Their politics and yearly celebration of Kwanzaa, which entails “sporting an orange, yellow and brown dashiki and a forehead-straining vertical braided hairstyle,” make Kenya a social pariah even at her all-black school. In Kenya, Solomon has crafted a character of irrepressible verve and voice who carries us joyously through the novel—even after she witnesses her parents’ breakup, when her father is imprisoned for injuring her mother with a gun. With the separation, Kenya is propelled from her safe black Philly world into the white world of an elite private school—the very world her father fled, traumatized and bitter. Here, she becomes a master of code-switching to fit in, all while knowing that her classmates will never truly accept her. After a chance meeting with a black boy from her old neighborhood turns into a failed love affair, Kenya seeks comfort in a visit to her father, newly released from prison. The scenes with Kenya’s father, who's enjoying a bigamous life with two new wives and two new sets of kids, are razor-sharp on the contradictions of identity—here, for example, we see Kenya’s father, a staunch activist for African-American rights, unable to make the link to respect women’s rights. Kenya has a palpable need for her father to become a solid, guiding force as she steps into womanhood, but he can’t do it. And when her stepfather loses all her mother’s money, Kenya’s future college education doesn't quite go as planned. In this debut novel, Solomon (Get Down, 2008) examines the confusing moments on the verge of adulthood within the ever shifting makeup of family and society.
Blackness, feminism and the loss of virginity have never been analyzed by a more astute and witty main character.