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BLACK, WHITE, OTHER by Joan Steinau Lester


In Search of Nina Armstrong

by Joan Steinau Lester

Age Range: 12 & up

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-310-72763-7
Publisher: Zondervan

After her black dad and white mom separate, Nina Armstrong, 15, explores her mixed-race identity.

Nina’s circle of friends is white. Prompted by another girl, her best friend now turns openly racist. Neither defends Nina when a racist shopkeeper falsely accuses her of theft and searches her. Nina’s father has also started noticing racism. His bitter comment on how white cops treat black victims of a gas explosion causes Nina to wonder, “Who is this Dad?” It may serve the plot, but the family’s past indifference to race and late discovery of virulent racism strains credulity. Interwoven with her story is her father’s history of a courageous, enslaved ancestor who escaped to freedom; reading it helps Nina cope with the racism she encounters. Race and multiracial identity are challenging subjects, messy and evolving; Lester, a white diversity consultant, appears disconcertingly unaware herself of changing terminology; Dad routinely identifies enslaved forbears as “slaves.” For African-Americans, whose mixed ancestry stems from sexual assault by white men on enslaved women and whose racial identity was long defined by the “one drop” rule, claiming white heritage remains fraught and complicated.

Papering over messy but fundamental issues, this well-intentioned, Christian-infused debut—though competently written—achieves its cheerful resolution at the expense of credibility. (glossary, bibliography) (Fiction. 12 & up)