The Basics: Introducing a tale of a biracial girl named Emma Boudreaux and her brother, Bernie, in an autobiographical first novel, Emily Raboteau jumps immediately into the politics of their heritage. When you have a black father and a white mother, people judge your blackness by the tone of your skin color, the texture of your hair and, as she puts it, "the Bantu of your butt." To make matters more culturally complicated for this family, they live in the rarefied academic atmosphere of Princeton University, where the lonely, haunted father is a star professor of African theology. It will take exploring the history of three generations before Emma can construct an identity for herself.
The Catch: It's not more than three pages before the author further embroils her readers with "My big brother Bernie is a vegetable now." Emma, narrating the story from the perspective of a young adult, jumps back and forth in time to tell the pertinent details, and she's not about burying the lead. What's important to her about her brother can't wait until chapters later; it's what starts her whole exploration of her identity. Since he's the older, more confident sibling, she defines herself according to him, and when he's zapped out of her life, she has to fend for herself.
Why It's Good: It isn't Emma's biracial heritage that confuses her. Things weren't any better for her father growing up poor near New Orleans in an all-black community, nor were they any clearer for her mother, who had a more privileged upbringing, albeit with an alcoholic father. Raboteau's story is fascinating for its singularity and specificity, and made even more intriguing by the fact that it's autobiographical and the portraits are thinly veiled '- especially the one of family friend Lester Wright, who is no doubt based on Princeton's Cornel West.
iVillage Mood Meter: Will give you an unusual story to ponder during Black History Month
Author: Emily Raboteau
Publisher: Henry Holt