Jessie’s world revolves around the Minnesota theater company her parents co-founded, so she’s considerably shaken up when she surprises her dad, Mark, in a passionate embrace with Brad, the company’s costumer.
Mark, who’s black, moves out, the theater goes on, and Jessie adapts to her reconfigured family. Less resilient, her mother, Una, who’s white, dives into an affair with the company’s other co-founder. Her dad’s family excepted, Jessie’s world is white. (Jessie, 15 and a high school graduate, belongs to the burgeoning biracial-genius category.) Sensing her gifts lie in writing and directing, Jessie breaks with tradition and enrolls in a writing workshop instead of helping with theater summer school. Sexual orientation, coming out and celebrating progress toward marriage equality are central to plot and theme; characters are explicitly gay, straight or, like Jessie herself, undecided Then in a puzzling development that feels borrowed from another narrative, race, until now carrying little emotional or thematic weight, replaces sexual orientation as the catalyst for her development. Sexual orientation gets savvy, sensitive treatment, but the presentation of race is clumsy and simplistic. Previously effervescent and self-confident, Jessie now struggles with a self-limiting belief, racially nuanced, that she can’t dance. Since readers know Jessie has no ambitions to act or dance, why does it matter?
An initially fresh, original narrative swamped by tired tropes and conventional resolution. Pity. (Fiction. 12-16)