It takes chutzpah for a nonblack to write something like this, but some risks are worth the effort for what they reveal of...

AFRICA SPEAKS

An oddity, this story of New York street-smart black life by columnist and Bible studies instructor Goldblatt (Fashion Institute of Technology, SUNY) is actually both hip and moving.

Africa Ali, known to his high-school teacher dad as Kevin, is a bright guy and small-time dealer, 23, full of himself, black pride, and the “dawgs” in the 149th Street Crew he calls his family. He’s got no fear about being interviewed by some whitey who wants to “keep it real,” so into the tape recorder Africa talks, nonstop, about his main man Herc, who keeps his attitude alive and enhances his police record, about his dad, whom he doesn’t talk to anymore, about Tanya, the mother of his child, who kicked him out of her life in the birthing room when he couldn’t say he loved her, about Keisha, who loves him enough to fight for him but from whom he keeps distant, lest she engage his feelings. Africa talks about black superiority, about his own racist and sexist views, about his time in court, about his time in bed with Keisha. He raps, rants, struts, falters—and steadfastly refuses to discuss his older brother Dexter. As the series of interviews proceeds, Africa occasionally delegates others from his crew to speak for him: Keisha tells about how Africa saved her from having zero self-esteem after she tried to help a girlfriend whose child was murdered by its father; intellectual Jerome delivers the Black Power message but also spills the beans about what happened to Dexter; Fast Eddy reports on Africa’s recovery from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. And Africa himself struggles to describe his relationship with a Chinese girl. For all his protests, it might just be love.

It takes chutzpah for a nonblack to write something like this, but some risks are worth the effort for what they reveal of essential humanity. This is one.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-57962-037-X

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2001

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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