A black teenager struggles to come to terms with his identity, his troubled past, and his broken home in Silicon Valley.
The year is 2002, and 14-year-old Chad Loudermilk is trying to cope as best he can. He’s black, but everyone in his surrounding community of Palo Alto is white, the parents who adopted him included. His family is falling apart—his father, Ray, is struggling to make ends meet while constantly comparing himself to their wealthy neighbors, the MacAvoys, while his mother, Allison, is struggling with the recent death of her mother. When Chad’s only friend, Walter Chen, falls ill, things with the MacAvoys reach a breaking point, and Palo Alto begins to turn into modern Silicon Valley, Chad finds himself thinking more and more about his birthparents in a quest to connect with where he came from and figure out who he wants to be. An array of diverse characters peppers Rossmann’s debut, which brims with the essence of the early years of the century. Allison’s sister, Diana Marchese, feels the fullest of the cast, and scenes of her romantic entanglements at academic conferences and reflections on romance, aging, and life feel fresh and true to life. Rossmann, who is white, takes on the tough challenge of making her main character a black teenager, and though Chad is vivid and his growth drives the narrative, certain moments that center on race and racial anxiety can feel grating, such as when Rossmann describes a party crowd as “black and Latino, throbbing to the beat of the music as if organically connected to it.” Though the novel suffers from slight lethargy at its outset, it picks up quite effectively, has a strong finish, and stands as a testament to a changing city in a changing country at a defining time in history.
A thoughtful, caring examination of race, class, and wealth in America.