Biracial Alex, 16, high school baseball star and pride of her white, adoptive father and coach, sidesteps thinking about her parentage and racial identity, lying to finesse uncomfortable issues—but hiding her adoptive status from Reggie, an attractive, black player on an opposing team, troubles her.
At dinner, her younger sister, Kit, demolishes their parents’ insistence that they don’t (and shouldn’t) see race. Kit brings Alex a letter from her black birth father, one their parents have kept secret, feeling Alex is too young to read them. (The gentle content suggests the adoptive parents’ motives for withholding them may be mixed.) Forced to confront long-suppressed questions, Alex seeks to locate, nail down, and inhabit the unitary, undivided identity expected of her, but she gradually realizes the jigsaw pieces of her identity, drawn from different puzzles, may never fit neatly in one harmonious whole. Visiting a black hair salon isn’t a joyful marker of identity reclaimed (“finally someone knows what do with my hair!”); it’s just another ordeal. Her hair reflects her mixed heritage and requires treatment as such. Reggie and Kit want to know Alex for who she is, but how, when she doesn’t know herself? Gibney, herself transracially adopted, honors the complexities of her diverse, appealing characters. Transracial adoption is never oversimplified, airbrushed, or sentimentalized, but instead, it’s portrayed with bracing honesty as the messy institution it is: rearranging families, blending cultural and biological DNA, loss and joy.
An exceptionally accomplished debut. (Fiction. 14-18)