A debut novel about a young woman’s coming-of-age with the Black Panther Party has more emotional power than depth.
There’s no indication that the novel’s protagonist, a naïve collegiate who wants to be a writer, is a stand-in for the female author, but the fiction nonetheless often reads like memoir or like a young-adult rendering of a riotous, tumultuous era. As a freshman, the virginal Geniece has her locker next to Huey Newton’s girlfriend, and as the account proceeds through her sophomore, junior and senior years, she encounters plenty of other prominent members of the Black Power movement—Stokely Carmichael, Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale—acquires a boyfriend who gives her a reading list, becomes radicalized, loses her virginity. She also must come to terms with the challenge posed by her aunt: “Be who you is cuz you ain’t who you isn’t.” But during a period of life when everyone experiences so much change, in the midst of such a tumultuous era, Geniece has trouble deciding exactly who she is. “I knew I was becoming militant,” she says. “I just didn’t know if I wanted to become a militant.” And, later: “Sure, I had fancied myself militant. That fit my naturally rebellious nature. But to be a militant was frightful. Yet intriguing.” Is such militancy more than a fashion statement? Instructed to dress in the fatigues of the movement, she responds to a man with whom she’s having a politically charged affair: “I know you don’t think that’s for me. They’re not even feminine....Chanting ‘off the pig’ is as masculine as I’m getting.” With any attempt to balance romance and political commitment, she runs into one of the movement’s contradictions: that women are seen as less equal than men in the fight for equality, reduced to “sexual cannon fodder in the midst of war.”
The novel skates along the surface of ’60s political upheaval and the Black Power movement, making those times seem like a phase that the protagonist (and its author?) were passing through.