Kraft’s debut novel explores the nuances of race, color, sex and identity while telling the stories of several women in three close families.
African-American Grace Brown and Polish immigrant Mrs. Elliott live in the same Columbus, Ohio, apartment building. Mrs. Elliott’s own children are grown, but she helps look after Grace’s daughters and son. She’s a good friend to Grace, whose white husband abruptly abandoned her and their children a few years earlier. Grace’s daughters, Becky and Leah, are younger than Mrs. Elliott’s oldest daughter, Margo, but they befriend Keisha, Margo’s 22-year-old adopted daughter. Similarly, Keisha makes friends with Emma and Jennifer Douglas, the mixed-race children of Margo’s friends, and they become her surrogate sisters. The children eventually grow up and start their own lives, but the entire clan reunites to support Keisha when she’s put on trial for the murder of a young white man. Since Keisha has very dark skin, the varied members of her multiracial extended family fear the trial’s outcome. Kraft tells each of the characters’ stories through detailed vignettes set in different times and places, but they all maintain a sense of interconnectedness. The author’s prose is often skillful, although some readers may find that she relies too much on similes; however, her astute, expressive imagery makes up for this flaw (“her wild mane of hair fluffs around her head, an effect softened only by a wide multi-colored headband, so that she seems a cross between a washerwoman and an African queen”). Although the book addresses issues such as motherhood, sexuality and self-awareness, its primary focus is skin color and what its spectrum means to those who fall within its many nonwhite shades. Some readers may feel that the many specific descriptions of characters’ skin colors seem repetitious; however, by using this device, Kraft refuses to allow readers to forget, even for a moment, about the impact of color in today’s society. Overall, she has produced a novel that’s certain to inspire and inform much-needed discourse.
A novel of resonant stories that combine to form a powerful meditation on race.