Book Review: Black, White, Other -Joan Steinau Lester

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As a biracial teen, Nina is accustomed to a life of varied hues—mocha-colored skin, ringed brown hair streaked with red, a black father, a white mother. When her parents decide to divorce, the rainbow of Nina’s existence is reduced to a much starker reality. Shifting definitions and relationships are playing out all around her, and new boxes and lines seem to be drawn every day. Between the fractures within her family and the racial tensions splintering her hometown, Nina feels caught in perpetual battle. Stranded in a nowhere land of ethnic boundaries, and struggling for personal independence and identity, Nina turns to the story of her great-great-grandmother’s escape from slavery in hopes of finding her own compass to help navigate the challenges before her.

Nina is in a place of change. Her parents are getting divorced, she hardly recognises her best friend or the world around her. While her Dad rallies against the unfairness of the current racial situation, Nina has no idea where she fits. She may have her father’s dark skin, but also has her mother’s soul. She needs to work out where she fits in this world and who she wants to be. This novel is an attempt at various issues in a new and interesting way. Lester uses a combination of modern events and fictionalised history to show a new perspective.

While reading the novel I felt like the author was trying to do so many things and, in doing so, made the novel a struggle to read. It honestly felt like the author couldn’t decide whether she wanted to write a historical fiction or a YA novel, I’m all for authors trying new things but this just didn’t seem to work in my opinion. While reading, the imagined history of Nina’s ancestor seemed to have a lot more detail and consistency than reading from Nina’s perspective.

This is an important issue and it needs to be raised in young adult literature, however, I found it incredibly difficult to follow. There were gaps in the plot that I had to go back and keep checking such as certain characters, who they were to Nina and the history they shared. At some points, I was completely thrown off and not able to understand where people came from, what relevance they had to the story, which was a shame. I also felt angry and upset with descriptions of mental illness that were portrayed in the novel calling mentally ill people ‘mentally challenged’ and using mental illness as an insult. This was extremely disappointing.

I gave this novel 1 out of 5 stars. I really couldn’t enjoy the writing or the plot and while I think the ideas had merit it seemed very weak unfortunately. I received this novel for a fair and honest review via Netgalley.

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