In many ways, all three of this month’s books are about
discovery: Passing for Black, Linda
Villarosa’s debut novel about a young woman coming out; Live Through This, an anthology
of stories about the precarious relationship between creativity and
self-destruction, edited by Sabrina Chapadjiev; and According to Her Contours, lesbian
poet Nancy Boutilier’s first
collection of poetry, published in 1992.
Passing for Black by Linda Villarosa (Dafina Books)
Linda Villarosa’s compelling debut novel, Passing for Black, begins with an
epigraph from Nella Larsen: "She
wished to find out about this hazardous business of ‘passing,’ this breaking
away from all that was familiar and friendly to take one’s chances in another
environment, not entirely strange, perhaps, but not entirely friendly."
In Passing for Black,
Angela Wright is on the brink of discovery. By the looks of it, life couldn’t
be better — she is engaged to Keith, a professor of African-American history,
is relatively close with her family, and has a successful career as a
journalist. According to her shrewd best friend, Mae, she couldn’t ask for
Angela agrees with Mae’s assessment, but beneath the surface
she struggles with very real insecurities and questions about her life,
including her sexuality ("I am not
gay-lesbian-bisexual questioning. I am a straight heterosexual American") and issues of race ("Though I had
been ‘black born black’ for almost thirty years, every day I wrestled with the
tyranny of striving for authenticity").
Though Angela has spent years working through these
questions, it is not until she meets Cait, a white woman and a professor of
queer studies at the same university where Keith teaches, that she is forced to
try to find some answers.
Passing for Black is
filled with realistically flawed characters who either interfere with or
contribute to Angela’s growth. Angela’s mother is able to fight for the rights
of African-American transgender men and women, but is unable to see her own
daughter’s need for an advocate. Likewise, Cait is so blinded by her own
struggle for equal rights that she fails to recognize her own prejudices.
Villarosa does not shy away from controversy, and Passing for Black takes an honest look
at the concept of "passing" within both the queer and
African-American communities — the internal and external influences that make
people feel like they need to or should pass, and the impact that this has on
Author Linda Villarosa
Passing for Black is
a rich exploration of Angela’s journey and, ultimately, how she is able to
determine her identity for herself — not merely as a reaction to or against the
people in her life. It is an engaging, sexy and thought-provoking read.