A fictionalized account of the very real Anita Hemmings, the first WOC to graduate from Vassar in 1897. Hemmings "passed" as white until her roommate hired a private detective to find out the truth and used it to try to have her ejected from school prior to graduation. Obviously this all makes for quite the story, but so little is known about her time at Vassar that Tanabe had the chance to run with this story.

I found it quite difficult to get into the first part of the book. It seemed to consist mainly of Anita being put in uncomfortable situations, worrying that she would be found out and spending a lot of time crying and feeling sick to her stomach. I know that we had to see the change that comes over her as she is drawn into the ultra-rich world of her senior roommate, Lottie, but her early character didn't feel genuine. At this point, she's in her fourth year of college. If she was this stressed out for four years, she would never have made it.

We also learn in the afterword, that eventually she and her husband moved to New York and passed as white for the rest of their lives; meaning that any family that came to visit them had to come in through the servants' entrance. To me, this contrasted with the Anita grappling with whether it better served her community to pass as white or if she should embrace her Negro heritage. Of course, the real Anita doesn't sound like the kind of person most would find to be a likable heroine.

Once Anita started to have some fun and worked to balance the two sides of her life, the story picked up pace quickly and became a much more interesting read. It's not until she truly puts herself at risk that the pressure she feels begins to seem real. Regardless, I would still recommend this book to those who are interested in the Gilded Age and questions of race and "passing" in the generations following the Civil War.

PimaLib_ChristineR's rating:
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