Monday, November 14, 2011

Review: Black, White, Other: In Search of Nina Armstrong by Joan Steinau Lester

Joan Steinau Lester. Michigan: Zondervan, 2011. 222 pp.
Rating: Striking

Identity is a concept familiar to all, something people struggle with daily and not easily defined. We all ask, “Who am I? Our gifts, talents, experiences, and ancestors make us who we are. For most, adolescence is the first attempt to piece together the puzzle of ourselves. Grappling with identity is frightening, but even more terrifying is being a biracial teen struggling with this issue when the world familiar to you crashes down.

In Black, White, Other, Nina Armstrong, a product of a white mother and black father, seeks to regain her identity once her parent’s divorce completely alters the life she has always known, forcing her to view her surroundings in a manner alien to her. Rejected by friends for refusing to pick a side and live in a world that is either black or white, Nina stands alone. Feeling a connection to a dead ancestor, Nina sets out to explore how her life is akin to her enslaved great-great-grandmother. We follow Nina Armstrong on her tumultuous journey as she attempts to answer the elusive question, “Who am I?”

‘Other’ applies to more than just biracial or multiracial youth, but it describes us all as we at some point in our lives feel or has felt like an outsider, longing to be like everybody else. Lester’s employment of a novel-within-a-novel does well to enlighten readers of aspects of slavery and individuals during that time that may not be discussed in school, such as Henry “Box” Brown and Dr. Alexander Ross. Also, Lester calls attention to modern-day slavery, stereotypes, and racial profiling. Even though these issues are addressed, Lester does not delve into them. Failing to explore any of these issues deeper, especially Nina’s racial profiling incident, the reader is deprived of how these experiences affect Nina’s expedition to self-discovery.

Black, White, Other adequately describes the emotions of identity-lost teenagers. The glossary in the back of the book is an excellent reference for readers. Likewise, the discussion and follow-up questions at the end of the novel are excellent resources for teachers, book clubs, and for anyone who does not fit neatly into one defined category and is simply “other.” 

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