Sixteen-year-old Alexandra “Alex” Kirtridge is one of Wisconsin’s best baseball players, regardless of sex. She’s followed in her father’s footsteps to get there: training for hours every day, running, lifting, batting, fielding, eating carefully, studying old videos, living and breathing statistics, on and on and on. She’s used to other people being briefly confused when confronted with her family—Alex is biracial, while her parents and her two younger siblings are white—and lately, she’s been feeling more and more frustrated that no one ever talks about her past, her adoption, or even acknowledges her skin color. She’s so used to avoiding those subjects that when Reggie—an extremely attractive black baseball player from another team—starts chatting her up with getting-to-know-you questions, she deflects and hedges and outright lies.
Things come to a head when her 11-year-old sister confronts the whole family about it at the dinner table...and then they come to a double-head when Alex learns—again, due to her sister Kit—that her father has been hiding something from her: for years, her biological father wrote her letters. Now, on top of a rapidly changing body and a possible new romance, she’s trying to navigate THAT—how she feels about the possibility of connecting with a biological father she didn’t even know was willing or available to talk—WHILE trying to decide if she wants to confront her adoptive father about hiding the letters in the first place.
See No Color is about identity, about race, about family and adoption—transracial adoption more specifically—about communication and about secrets, about ingrained racism and sexism, about how withholding information from someone is making up their mind for them. It’s about the difference between protecting a loved one and protecting yourself, about how avoiding confrontation can make the confrontation far worse down the line. It’s about belonging to two worlds, but not feeling quite right in either. It’s about how saying that you “see no color” can be the same as telling someone that they’re invisible; about how ignoring difference can be the same as pretending a whole piece of someone doesn’t exist.
Gibney tackles a LOT of complex emotions and relationships in less than 200 pages, and she pulls all off beautifully. Alex’s interactions with Reggie—“the first black person who had wanted me”—and his mother are sweet and sometimes sad: as much as spending time with them makes her feel warm and wanted, she also feels nervous, like an imposter, like she would be “asked to participate in something I admired but could not produce.”
At first, Kit comes off as unbelievably—almost alarmingly—wise and understanding, but she ends up being just as fallible as everyone else. Kit sees her own disinterest in sports as parallel to Alex’s adoption and skin color—”Yeah, I’m white, but…I don’t fit in either. We’re both different.”—which, as Alex points out, is not remotely the same thing. Their father, who insists on referring to Alex as “half white” or “only half black,” and could easily, EASILY have been written as a two-dimensional strawman, is treated with the same amount of empathy and sensitivity as everyone else in the book.
Tying it all together is Alex’s voice, which moves from confused to frustrated to angry to scared to sad to ultimately, as she puts it, “ready.” Ready to engage with the world as herself, on her own terms; ready to see herself and someone who belongs to different worlds and communities that don’t necessarily mesh, but who is working to find and make her place in all of them.
Highly recommended, full stop.
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.