A multigenerational exploration of systemic racism in America.
Evelyn is 22 and studying to be a nurse. Her family is well-known in New Orleans’ 7th Ward. Her mother is a beautiful Creole woman. Her father’s distinctly African features are offset by the fact that he’s a doctor. It’s 1944, and Evelyn, her family, and her peers are unabashed in their colorism. Evelyn and her sister, Ruby, assess men and other women by the lightness of their skin and the natural straightness of their hair. Among other Negroes—the preferred term in this time and place—Evelyn’s appearance and relative wealth shield her from some of the harsh realities of the Jim Crow South. But what privilege she enjoys becomes an impediment when she falls in love with a man with no money and no family. Over the course of the novel, Sexton follows Evelyn, her daughter, Jackie, and her grandson, T.C., as they negotiate the realities of race and class in the United States. Jackie loses her husband—and her solidly middle-class life—to the crack epidemic of the 1980s. T.C. starts dealing weed after the world he knows is destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Some of the dilemmas these characters face would have been—and will be—recognizable to many African-Americans. For example, Evelyn’s beau (and, eventually, her husband) doesn’t want to risk his life fighting for a country in which he is not a full citizen. And, even though Jackie knows the devastating impact of crack firsthand, she also recognizes that the war on drugs has a disproportionate impact on black people. Some of the nuances are particular to New Orleans—which has a distinct and complicated history with regard to race—but Sexton’s choice of this unique setting is effective, too. There aren’t many places in the country where three generations can take an African-American family from life in an established, upper-middle-class enclave to a hand-to-mouth existence in public housing. Sexton's debut novel shows us that hard work does not guarantee success and that progress doesn’t always move in a straight line.
A well-crafted—and altogether timely—first novel.