chris terry wrote another book! and it is great! i loved his debut, Zero Fade, which—being a small press YA title—did not get nearly as wide a readership as it deserved, and if there is any justice in this world,* this one will garner him all the attention it oughta and encourage readers to go back and discover Zero Fade, so i can finally be that annoying hipster scoffing about how iiii read it back in 2013.
this is an adult novel, but it is about that solipsistic period of young adulthood preoccupied with identity and the perception/estimation of others. which is already plenty of meaty self-absorption to grapple with, but the existential anxiety here is compounded for our unnamed narrator—just a stereotypical halfie having an identity crisis— by having grown up biracial in virginia, so light-skinned that racists don’t always realize they’re supposed to hate him, and never feeling black enough in spite of/because of being the only nonwhite person in his social circle of punk rock skateboarders—being mistaken for white erases half of me, and happens so often that I think I’ve failed at blackness.
this struggle to balance the two sides of his genetic heritage has been lifelong, and has gone both ways:
I was excited to go to a black high school because, finally, people wouldn’t ask me about the black guy who dropped me off, or my kinky hair, or why I liked rap.
Instead, I was asked about the white lady who picked me up, and my red hair, and the rock music I liked.
he particularly frets about his blackness; how unintentionally ’passing’ for white excludes him from living an authentic african-american existence; a concern that becomes a reality when he has his (laminated) black card revoked by lucius—an arriving-on-a-cloud-of-smoke spirit guide through black expectations—forcing him to scrutinize and adjust his own mannerisms and behaviors, even down to the way he walks, for ways to earn back his card, ruminating on that age-old koan:
If a black man does something and no one sees it, how can he know if what he did was black?
he test-drives the stereotypes, studies the role models for inspiration, tries to get to the heart of how to present as a black man in america:
I wanted to turn a shade blacker every time I hit a bass string, envisioning a funk bassist with star sunglasses and a five-pointed bass; a jazz musician with his head back, the neck of his standup bass by his ear; even a lanky baseball pitcher folding himself into a crane shape on the mound before unleashing a fastball. Anything that read as black and performing.
and then he discovers he is just black enough to become a suspect in a violent crime he didn’t commit.
it’s sharp and funny and bright: all-too-realism with a whisper of magical realism, and voicey in the best possible way. go! buy! read!
*turns out there’s not—i checked. read these books anyway.