When familial love and loyalty collide with racism and classism, tensions mount.
Leary's debut novel examines the ties that bind three generations of women in the Barton family—and the divisions that keep them apart. Nancy is the family matriarch, a stern woman with clear ideas about propriety. Her two daughters are polar opposites. Andrea is single, a Chicago-based social worker who deals with refugees and lives in a cramped apartment with her adopted daughter, Pearl. Joanne is a suburban, married, stay-at-home mom. That Pearl is African-American and the Bartons white gives the novel multiple issues to grapple with and raises important concerns about transracial adoption. Unfortunately, the book is only partially successful. Pearl is a cliché—a self-sabotaging, angry black girl who acts out sexually—and Andrea is so clueless she’s almost a caricature. In one particularly glaring scene, she asks teenage Pearl if her friends are in a gang. What’s more, there are plotlines that sputter. For one, Nancy has kept a huge personal secret for most of her life. As readers, we’re in on it, but it's unclear if her daughters discover their mother’s hidden past when they rifle through her papers after her death. That this is left unresolved is unfortunate. Still, the novel exposes class antagonisms in the tony private school Pearl attends with cringe-worthy accuracy. Similarly, its portrait of a mixed-race family illustrates the parallel worlds inhabited by black and white Americans and the damage that needs to be repaired before we can truly call ourselves a post-racial country.
A timely but ultimately disappointing family drama.