While reading TheSkimm, I stumbled on this book review:
Based on the true story of the first African-American woman to ever go to Vassar College. The catch? No one knew she was African-American. After befriending the school’s Serena van der Woodsen, she has to work even harder at keeping her secret. Think: “Gatsby” meets college meets an impressive beach read.
My favorite book genre is historical fiction, my favorite era to read about is early 20th century, and I’m obsessed with women becoming modern and the struggle of Blacks post-slavery and pre-Civil Rights. This book was perfect. I have so little time and reading a book is very far down on my list of to-dos, so I rarely make time for this, but making time for this book was worth it. I didn’t submit blog posts (sorry Jen!!!), to make time to read this book. Luckily, it is a quick-read.
Because this book is based on history, resist the urge to google the lead character’s name. Information about her life is available online, but the twists and turns of her story won’t be as sweet if you read about her life before finishing the book. I am impatient, so I did google her, but I’m famous for not minding spoilers.
The lead character straddles between different worlds – Black/White, rich/poor – to seek a better future for herself that would be denied her if she did not pretend to be someone she is not. It also addresses guilt amongst black people who aren’t “representing” and the pressure to be the poster child for a whole group of people. The author, Karin Tanabe, put considerable time and research into writing this book. She is a Vassar graduate and searched archives, even using real newspaper headlines printed in the late 1800s in the book. Definitely read the afterward when you finish the book to gain more insight into how this story was discovered and uncovered. The descendent of the lead character is doing further research on her family to determine if they are related to Thomas Jefferson, so I don’t think the story ends with this book.
One of the reasons I love reading about this era is the description of the times. I love reading about the clothing, décor, and social activities. The innocence of courtship and the chivalry of the men are always appealing to me. I grew up reading Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, so a gloved-hand grazing a man’s arm is so much more up my alley than the explicit sexual encounters you’ll find in Fifty Shades of Grey.
I highly recommend this book and look forward to hearing what you thought about it in the comments below! You can purchase the book HERE.