Across the Page: Books of Discovery

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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

more.

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

the spirit.

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.

 

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