August 8, 2016

Caucasia by Danzy Senna


I read this book with one of the kids I worked with this summer. It was his summer reading assignment for school, and he was concerned about getting through it, so we read it together. Luckily, it's a good book. Some of those summer reading assignments are pretty awful.

Caucasia starts out in 1976. Birdie is 8 years old. Her sister Cole is 12. They are the daughters of a mixed race couple in Boston. Their mom was raised in Cambridge by high brow white parents. Their dad is a black philosophy professor who was a student of his wife's father at Harvard. Now, their views of how to increase race relations are varying. Her approach is to arm the Black Panthers. His approach is more cerebral. This causes many fights.

Cole looks black. Birdie looks white. The girls are treated differently by everyone including their parents. Cole struggles because her white mother can't help her do her hair or deal with skin issues that are specific to black women. Birdie's hair is like her mom's.

One night their parents decide to split up the girls and go separate ways. Their mom has gotten mixed up in something bad and the FBI is after her. Dad and Cole got to Brazil. Birdie and her mom disappear. They change their names and hit the road. They spent some time in a commune in upstate New York. Then they end up in New Hampshire. They settle down and put down some roots, but Birdie misses her sister.

The hardest thing for her is to listen to her new friends in this little town bash blacks and Jews (which she is pretending to be) and she can't unleash her anger.

Caucasia is an interesting choice for a high school assignment. It is an adult book. There was a scene in the book that really made the student I was working with really uncomfortable. He was pretty upset by it. It was a heavy make out scene, but it was pretty graphic. Also, there was a lot of language and drug use.

I guess the point is about how race affects our sense of self, but by the end of it I felt like it was more about how bad parenting affects our sense of self. These parents were pretty clueless. Sometimes verging on crazy. So, I'm not sure what was the whole point. It was a good story, though.

7/10 bookmarks.