The only child of radical Black parents, who ends up in school with privileged mostly white girls, Kenya Curtis has a lot to figure out about herself and her familial relationships and friendships. The book was written by Barnard graduate Asali Solomon '95 and takes place in Solomon's coming-of-age timeline, rather than the present and in her home town of Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs.
This passage from when Kenya was five is striking to me for its glimpse into the startlingly active and aware minds of children, "Quickly taking in the plastic-covered couch and the formal dining room that beckoned beyond, she said, 'Hello, Grandmother,' in a slightly British accent and bowed." I can totally imagine myself at that age having a similar thought process and embarrassing outcome. Kenya was right, though, her grandmama seems to have been tickled by Kenya's salutation.
Kenya's mother Sheila is a librarian and takes Kenya to see Audre Lorde read poems ("that don't rhyme") a the downtown library. Sheila is down with Lorde, except for the gay stuff. Her husband Johnbrown ("brown" self-appellated to "John" when he dropped out of Cornell) posits to Sheila that Lorde is "probably an FBI informant. A lot of those people are." Nice, right? Johnbrown is detestable for much of the novel. He gets better, which made me think how hard that can be on a kid who has programmed herself to think of a parent in one way and who carries anger from her childhood into an adult life with that parent no longer warranting that anger. Not that I know anyone like that.
At one point, as he's transitioning from jerk to not-jerk Johnbrown says to Kenya, "I made mistakes that I've had a long time to think about...[redacted because spoiler]...I hope you never have occasion to feel as sorry as I do."
What a bullshit man of a certain generation apology! Sickening!
Sheila is the breadwinner in the family, and bitter about it. Sheila grew up poor, where Johnbrown came up on the Main Line, which he asserts was "no fuckin' picnic" for a Black child. His passion is developing a sort of religion, the Seven Days, centered on Black radicalism and philosophy. There are a handful of practitioners who come together for weekly meetings, mostly at the Curtis's house, and they're most of Kenya's society for the first ten or so years of her life. She's a shy kid with a weird family and grungy clothes and doesn't have a lot of friends at school.
A question underlies the whole novel--what a disgruntled person should do with their disgruntlement, the best way to burn the source of their disgruntlement down.