Posts tagged Book review
What I did not so much:
Ian Thomas Healy Talks Candidly About The Archmage:
Tell us about your latest book.
The Archmage is a sequel to the novel Just Cause, starring the super-speedy Mustang Sally along with the rest of the Just Cause superhero team. In it, I explore the use of magic in a superhero setting. In this case, a character named Wolfgang Frasier has been slaughtering other mages around the world and taking their power for himself. He’s gotten so powerful that there is only one other mage remaining besides him, the hero Stratocaster, who is a member of the Lucky Seven hero team that Sally trained with at the beginning of Just Cause. If Frasier manages to kill Stratocaster, his power becomes absolute and he could plunge the entire world into darkness, becoming its total ruler. This is, of course, his goal. Sally and the other heroes have no choice but to try to stop him, even though his power is so great that he can call armies of the dead out of the ground and turn anyone captured to his side. There’s a nifty bit of time travel thanks to magic going awry that sends the team back to the 1870s, and of course some great intrigue and epic, cinematic battles. At the same time, Sally’s relationship with Jason is growing much more complex and suffering growing pains all its own.
What is Local Hero Press?
LHP is an imprint I created specifically for the release of my novel-length work and collections. I didn’t want to simply release them under my own name as the publisher because with such a wide variety of genres under my belt, I wanted something to tie them all together. This way, if someone buys The Archmage, likes it, and looks to see what else LHP has to offer, they might discover Blood on the Ice or Pariah’s Moon or Troubleshooters.
You do write in a variety of genres. Tell us about some of them.
I don’t like to be pigeonholed, so I don’t force myself to stay in one genre, if I’m interested in writing in a different one. This goes against common wisdom of building a brand, from what I’ve seen on the internet, so I’m forming my own uncommon wisdom instead. That again ties back to the LHP imprint by creating a common thread beyond just my name. I follow my muse, so I’ve gone from superheroes (Just Cause, The Archmage) to funny science fiction (The Milkman), to cyberpunk (Troubleshooters), to fantasy/Western (Pariah’s Moon), to urban fantasy sports (Blood on the Ice), to religious symbolism (Hope and Undead Elvis) and even more. And if my agent sells The Guitarist, I can add “Mainstream Young Adult” to my genres.
You have an agent? I thought you were self-published.
I do have an agent, Carly Watters of PS Literary Agency in Toronto. She represents my Young Adult work only, and when we discussed the possibility of her representing me, we both agreed that she could still effectively represent a portion of my work and I could still effectively release my speculative and adult fiction without interfering with one another. I am, in fact, searching for a second literary agent to represent The Oilman’s Daughter, the epic steampunk/space opera that I coauthored with my dear friend Allison M. Dickson.
What’s it like working with another writer so closely on a project?
I’m not sure I have anything better to compare it to than a successful marriage. We worked very closely together on the project (two time zones separating us notwithstanding!). We had complete trust with each other, and were able to discuss what should have been extremely divisive and difficult issues not only with calm heads, but with a sense of joy that only two opposing viewpoints between dear friends can bring. The best thing about working with someone like that is going back through the manuscript and not being able to tell exactly who wrote which parts. That’s just awesome.
Prof. Jenn’s Custom Questions:
I’ll answer the second part first. Yes, you’ll enjoy it. I have intentionally designed every Just Cause Universe book as a self-contained tale. Yes, it’s part of the larger universe, and there are storylines that carry over from the previous books, but not in such a way that a new reader will be lost. If you have read Just Cause, you’ll find the relationship between Sally and Jason growing and changing, like relationships tend to do. You’ll find Sally’s relationships with other members of her team changing as well. You’ll also see her maturing more, a process which began in Just Cause. She’s a young woman who’s still trying to find her place in the world, and that means a lot of growing pains.
Are there plans for more books in this universe? What direction/s will they take?
I have tentatively planned 19 books for the Just Cause Universe. Yeah, that’s a lot. Besides The Archmage and Just Cause, I have three more novels completed. Some expand the other areas of the universe, focusing on characters only circuitously related to Just Cause. Others deal with prior incarnations of the team, set in the ‘70s, or ‘40s, for example. Remember that Sally is a third-generation superhero. Both her parents and her grandparents were involved in the Just Cause team, so that’s a lot of history to explore.
Any plans to branch out in comic versions/spinoffs?
If any artist reading this wants to talk to me about graphic novel adaptations of my work, feel free to contact me via my website (www.ianthealy.com). At the moment, I’m not looking for any original JCU stories, although that’s certainly an option for the future.
Jump up on a soapbox about self e-publishing. What’s been your experience, and would you recommend it?
*boing* My experience has been almost uniformly positive. My goal has always been to make my work accessible and available for people to read, and it’s been a real boost to get so many positive reviews. That encourages me to continue with my work. That being said, I am still looking to break into traditional publishing via my agent or another avenue. Self-publishing is a slow road, and in spite of the rags-to-riches tales permeating the internet, you’re probably not going to be the one who starts selling a million copies a month. You’re probably not going to start selling a hundred copies a month either. My first month as an ebook publisher, I think I sold five copies total. Now I’m averaging about three copies sold at retail price per day across all platforms. Some of those are novels, others are short stories. I lump ‘em all together because it feels a lot better to me.
I do recommend self-publishing with the following caveats: Short stories, novellas, and cross-genre works make great fodder for self-publishing. If you have a completed novel that might be commercially viable, take the time and the effort to try to sell it traditionally first. If it doesn’t sell that way, then epublish it. Ignoring potential traditional sales and focusing solely on self-publishing (or vice versa) is like only shaving one leg and wearing shorts. And don’t cheat by self-publishing: you still need to do thorough editing and revision, and design (or pay for) a great cover. If your beta readers can’t tell you honestly that your work stands up on its own beside similar traditionally-published work, you need to head back to the editing table.
What’s a favorite book you’re reading right now?
Right now, I’m reading Infernal Devices by K.W. Jeter. It’s a Victorian steampunk novel and I’m enjoying it.
The Archmage, book 2 of the Just Cause Universe series, launches from all online retailers on September 1, 2012. Exclusive signed editions can be purchased directly from Local Hero Press (http://localheropress.ianthealy.com).
Author website: www.ianthealy.com
*This post originally appeared at Bonzuko. ~Prof. Jenn
It is no secret that I love gender-bending fiction. I’ve read and reviewed many books over the years that delve into the topic. For the most part, I’ve found myself drawn to works that are written by women, bringing the male into the world of womanhood and giving a deeper insight into what that means. However, I’m always open to seeing how male authors take on femininity. When I came across mention of A Woman’s Passion by Alan Barrie, a book that’s been in print well over a decade, I wanted to give it a try and see what the genre was like back then. I went into this book hoping I’d love it. I came out of it more frustrated than satisfied, which made me sad.
The main character, aptly named Alan Barrie, is a self-proclaimed straight man who has long wondered what sex is like from a female perspective. Now, pushing aside the author insertion of naming the character after himself, the subject of sexuality comes up again and again, mainly to assure the reader that despite whatever feelings are developing between the characters, heterosexuality is to remain at the forefront. This is really about a man coming to terms with the fact he’s transgendered, but it’s couched in this time-limited forced feminization fantasy. More aggravating to me are the ideals that the book promotes in terms of what makes a woman who she is and how that relates to her sexuality. The book is very much a male fantasy that buys into the gender tropes rather than trying to tap into the female viewpoint.
After years of wondering what it’s like for a woman, being met with strange glances every time he brings it up, Alan finally finds a girlfriend who understands and wants to help, by way of some family magic. Her mother figure has the power to change Alan, for one week, into a woman. That way, he could get the full female experience, including the sex he so desires. But, wait, that won’t work because he’d still be a straight man inside his mind. Instead, they’ll make the transformation gradual and Cassandra will condition him to be a woman, to think and act like one, so that when his body is fully female he will have sexual desires for men. I think that’s what bothered me most. I find it offensive that the author sees sexuality as something that can be conditioned. The main character is not straight, no matter what he thinks. The fact that the author asserts that Alan can turn on and off his feelings by way of a one-week training session is hard to deal with. So, too, is the ideal of female desire that he is working toward. Alan takes on the name Allison during his transformation and, after the gradual process of changing, she becomes a 5’7″ woman who weighs only 118 pounds. This is after she recedes in age to 14 before aging again as a girl. I was constantly confused as to the reasoning behind this, other than to play out male fascination with female development.
The constant push towards helping Allison lose her virginity was the main theme of the week. It was why Alan chose to go through this experiment in the first place, but Allison flip flops on her desire to go through with it on multiple occasions. Alan is willing to stop the transformation half-way through the week, for fear that Cassandra will become jealous of his developing female sexuality. This is in conflict with the understanding that Cassandra is straight and does not look at Allison in a sexual manner most of the time. Both the characters are dealing with defining who they are and what they mean to one another, so it was nice to see that conflict acknowledged. However, the male/female interactions of Allison and her dates were not as appealing to me as the short scene in which she explores her body with a vibrator, a present left by Cassandra. In that scene, she’s not defining herself through male interaction, but instead coming to terms with herself and her desires. She and her body are one in that situation and I think the author shined in that exploration. I just wish the other scenes were up to these standards. Instead, I’m left with a book that promotes stereotypical experiences and gives a twist at the end that is essentially a get-out-of-jail-free card to all the changes and desires that have developed among these characters. Alan, as Allison, can have everything and not have to give up any part of his/her identity. It left me to question if this was truly what men think when they look at women and wonder “what if?”
Book Review: The Innkeeper’s Song, Peter S. Beagle // by Prof. Jenn
This book was a personal favorite of mine as a young, Fantasy-obsessed geeklet and recently I revisited it. I was not disappointed! Many of you nerd-babes may know Peter Beagle from his stunning Last Unicorn, but this lesser-known book is a Fantasy masterpiece.
I know, I know—them’s strong words, particularly coming from a geek who reads LOTR almost yearly. There are many reasons for my statement, but the main two elements of literature that make this the best Fantasy I’ve (re) read in a long time are: character (and POV), and the way the Fantasy world (and its magic) is built.
The book uses a short-chapter construction, with each chapter titled with the POV character’s name. What this does is makes the intense emotional journeys and tense action sequences easier to bear. If the entire novel were told from the perspective of, say, Lal (or Nyateneri or good lord Tikat), the reader would be exhausted emotionally and wouldn’t be able to take the huge dramatic builds in each action scene. By chopping the action up into small (yet tautly constructed) chunks, each from a different character’s perspective, we get a kaleidoscopic view of the story, and insights beyond what we’d get with 3rd-person limited POV. This structure also gives us a clearer view of each character (we get their inner life as well as other characters’ opinions/observations of them), without getting lost in info dumps. The lack of info dumps/exposition doesn’t lose a reader—actually, it makes the characters that much more realistic, and puts the reader there in the world with them.
The other thing that’s so gripping about the way these characters reveal themselves to the reader (and is actually the same reason why I found Rothfuss’ Name of the Wind so great—hey, I wonder if he was inspired by this book?), is that each character is telling the story right to the reader, as though s/he is in an inn, listening over red ale. The characters refer to the fact that they’re recounting what happened, years later, and even go so far as to address the reader directly: a couple characters ask “do you understand what I mean?” and stop the reader from interrupting them. One character even threatens to dunk the reader’s head in their soup if they continue laughing at them. This tone makes the story compelling in that it sounds like real people talking. It makes you want to know what happens next that much more.
This is, of course, why the world of The Innkeeper’s Song is so complete: the characters explain what happened, but as though the reader is also a tenant of the world, has heard the legends before, and is merely there to relay their eyewitness account. Far from confusing the reader, or not having enough background detail to easily picture the world, two things are happening with this multiple-realistic-POV technique: 1) we get certain events reiterated without seeming repetitive, and 2) the people and surroundings are so realistic that even the magic and foreign-sounding terms are readily understandable, because there is so much context.
Any of you multilingual nerds will know that long before one becomes fluent in a different language, one can understand it pretty well by gist, and context. Sure, there are creatures that aren’t from Earth, but a reader can readily get what (for example) a rock-targ is, or a shikri, from not only the sound of the names, but all the characters’ reactions to/knowledge of them. This is the way a Fantasy novel should be—it should plunge you into the world without using the dreaded info dump, but not in such a “Viking swimming lesson” way as to confuse or lose the reader. This is a fine line to tread, and Beagle is a master at it.
It’s my theory also that the main reason that the magic is so realistic (!) in this book is that the two magic-users in the story aren’t ever a chapter-heading. In other words, we are never in either of the wizards’ heads, never in their POV, but only observing the magic from outside the magic-user. This way, the actual process of it is a mystery, and the one who actually practices it are sort of like an old-school ninja-movie sensei, like Mr. Miyagi, who is simultaneously the master of life’s secrets, and also kind of a kook. The other is the classic over-egotistical, disgruntled, powerful “sith apprentice”. So we have the perspective of students, learning about what they do but rightly not understanding completely. This is a way to get lots of information across about the fantasy world, without becoming Basil Exposition.
Also, there is one point in the story at which I always, but always, have to reach for a tissue. Even when I know it’s coming.
I also hear that Beagle has written/is writing a sequel, or at least will be visiting the world (hopefully the characters?) in the future.
I highly recommend The Innkeeper’s Song, especially for those of you that get sick of uber-noble Aragorn types and would enjoy a Fantasy in which someone uses the word “goatfucking.” J
I adore MPREG (male pregnancy) stories. Ask any of my friends and they might tell you that I talk about the gender exploration of the genre more than they’d like. So, as a result, I often seek out not only MPREG fanfiction, but also mainstream novels that utilize the trope. Yes, there are many. And when I noticed that “The Wiener Diaries” by Susanna Kramer was one such novel, I asked the author if I could review it. The concepts are good in this book. You’ve got a society that has suddenly developed a third sex, male-bearers, who are essentially hermaphrodites that can menstruate and get pregnant. The story focuses on a teen, Joss, who is such a person and how he deals with the identity of who he thinks he is versus who society thinks he is. So, yes, great concepts to explore. The execution, however, is a bit flawed.
This book feels like a first draft. It’s more scene, summary, scene, summary than a continuous storyline. The essential plot, Joss’ gender issues, are weighed down with red herrings and subplots that the novel doesn’t give time for. Max, who Joss has a one-night stand with and gets pregnant by, is cutting, yet that avenue isn’t actually dealt with in any way more than a passing mention. If he’s depressed enough to cut, possibly brought on by his big brother’s homophobia, then I would have liked to see that dealt with. Joss is the first male-bearer to become pregnant, though there are others immediately after him. However, society doesn’t seem to have a negative reaction to any of them when faced with them on the street. It’s just a calm acceptance of “a pregnant male-bearer is normal.” I would have loved to see some reaction, especially when it doesn’t seem like this society is very accepting of homosexuality despite the repeated assurances by the narrator. There’s a brief mention of one pregnant male who was killed and his baby removed from the womb that might give a hint towards a more sinister storyline, but that’s dropped quickly. And there’s a subplot about aliens having created this third gender, but they’re glossed over to a large extent. I was left unsure of who they were, what they looked like, and why they thought this path was the best one to take in achieving the peace they seemingly sought. Added to that, there is stilted language in the dialogue and noted editing and spelling errors throughout. Again, it feels like a first draft. I think many of these issues could have been cleared up with subsequent drafting and critiques.
One of the larger issues I had about the book was about the sexuality storyline. Joss falls into bed with Max out of nowhere and then repeatedly assures everyone he’s not gay. I can understand denying your own sexuality, I get that, but it’s more like everyone is against being labeled homosexual. Joss becomes pregnant and gets it confirmed by the doctor and his mother is more concerned with assuring herself that her son isn’t gay rather than dealing with the fact he’s pregnant and wants to give the baby to the scientists as soon as it’s born so that it can become a lab rat. Joss repeatedly says that as soon as the government will allow him, he’s going to get his female sex removed, thus becoming the full man he believes himself to be. Yet he has adults constantly telling him that it’s okay to experiment because he has both parts, giving him an out with the whole “I’m not gay” mindset. However, when the baby’s born and the doctor asks if he’d like to go through with the procedure to remove his female sex, he does an about-face. There was no lead-up or acceptance of his gender or sexuality, he just decides he’s okay with who he is randomly. I saw no motivation for the sudden turn in his thinking.
Gender exploration is hard and when a novel sets out to subvert the societal expectations of what it means to be male-gendered or female-gendered it’s made even more difficult. The spark of potential was there in this novel, but it was just not allowed to come through. I’m interested in what this third gender means for a society such as ours, as well as what the male experience is when dealing with menstruation and pregnancy. If those issues were given time enough to be explored, this could have been a great novel. Unfortunately, too many events and plots were condensed down into 140 pages so that all the interweaving plots got cheated. I’d love to see the author do short stories from this universe that has been created because I feel like there’s so much more to explore and I don’t want to give up on this world just yet.
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Soulless by Gail Carriger
Review by: Megara Noelle
Looking for more Steampunk in your fantasy Sci-Fi books? Tired of the same old settings of modern times or the future? Well, I have a book that can give you that change. I present to you a book with Werewolves, Vampires, and Victorian scandal. In Gail Carriger’s first book of the Parasol Protectorate series, Soulless, we follow Alexia Tarabotti as she fearlessly makes her way through the world of the supernatural. Of course it helps that she has no soul, one of the rare ‘Preternatural’, something that she inherited from dead Italian father, quite scandalous. We find out right away that her preternatural abilities help her face down the supernatural, they can turn Vampires and Werewolves human for as long as they touch her.
Following Alexia through this supernatural murder mystery we watch as she interacts with some of the most powerful and well known Hive and Pack members of society. And she does all of this in secret as she keeps her own status a secret from her family. Alexia Tarabotti is one of the most unique characters that I have encountered, and I taught myself to read when I was four and haven’t stopped, so I’ve read through my fair share of books. She has elements of almost every female main character. She can kick-ass when in a tough situation, but will still ask for help and use her womanly wiles, and still manages to have some time to focus on what she thought was a non-existent love life. My favorite character has to be Lord Akeldama though, a very eccentric vampire who loves color, art, and many other exciting and loud things, and people. Although, I won’t lie and say that I wouldn’t love to meet the loud, brash and very handsome werewolf Alpha, Lord Maccon.
Alexia Tarabotti is headstrong, and stubborn, (much like my family) and despite almost everyone she knows telling her not too, she investigates the appearances of vampires and disappearances of werewolves on her own. It gets her into trouble more often than not, but where’s the fun in life without a little excitement? Am I right? Being labeled a spinster helps her not draw attention though, as it is quite scandalous for a woman in the late 1800’s to be talking to scientists, and reading more than her fair share of books. Sounds like my kind of girl. All she really wanted was some treacle tart.
Overall, I was very happy at the end of the book. It can be read as a standalone, the story wrapping up without having to impatiently wait for the next in the series. But, you’ll want to continue reading the series because Miss Tarabotti is the kind of character that you want to know what happens to her, what kind of trouble that she causes, and if she’ll get out of it. I’ve added Gail Carriger to the list of authors I regularly look for when I visit a book store thanks to this book. If you want a little bit of steampunk and science in your Victorian novel, I highly recommend Soulless and the two following books in the Parasol Protectorate series, Changeless and Blameless.
The Affinity Bridge by George Mann
Review by: Megara Noelle
I find most of my books, which turn out to be my favorites, by the book cover. This particular book I found mere weeks away from the World Steam Expo. I say this because on the cover of The Affinity Bridge is a large dirigible. Take my money, please. “A Newbury & Hobbes Investigation” the cover reads, “Steampunk is making a comeback, and with this novel Mann is leading the charge….” The Guardian dropped in, and some of the best reviews I’ve seen on the back. “An enormous pile of awesome.” Author Chris Roberson boasts, while the SF Signal says “Captures the Sherlock Holmes feel. Never a boring Passage. A Hugely entertaining book.” Steampunk and Sherlock Holmes in writing? Okay, now I’m just throwing my money at the cashier.
I wasn’t disappointed. It’s the early 1900’s, 1901 to be exact, and shipments and people coming back form India seem to have brought back a plague of some kind. Fog covers the streets, thickest in the morning and at night, and there’s a general warning out that no one is to travel the streets after sunset for fear of the plague ridden. One bite or scratch from these people will pass the plague, and those infected have merely three days before all hope is lost. Of course, those of us in the 21st century have a name for this, zombies. That’s right, I said zombies. Let’s tally this up so far. Sherlock Holmes, Steampunk, and now Zombies.
The enigmatic Sir Maurice Newbury is assigned a new assistant, Miss Veronica Hobbes, by the Queen herself. As soon as Miss Hobbes arrives they are thrown right into a new case, an airship crash where the automaton pilot has gone missing. They have to find the pilot, and find out why it malfunctioned when its creator claims that it can’t possibly malfunction, and investigate a string of murders committed by a glowing constable. The two cases can’t possibly be connected, so what to do what to do. The Queen is very interested in the airship crash and they’re starting to feel the pressure.
George Mann has created a world where things happen with plausible explanations, not where we’re asked to believe everything just on faith. It’s a blend of History Fiction and Sci-Fi/Fantasy that pulls you in. I usually only read Fantasy and High Fantasy novels, but with this book I find myself looking for Mann in the fiction section online and in real life for any new books. The way that Newbury and Hobbes work together gives a Holmes and Watson feel, but they have their own personalities and quirks. Headstrong Hobbes gives no real fuss when it comes to investigating or chasing down suspects, but enjoys a formal gala event and picking out the colors that she’ll wear. Newbury gives a feeling of cool calm and collected while craving and absorbing knowledge quicker than a sponge in the ocean. George Mann has a style of writing that I can only strive for as a budding author, and I personally can’t wait for the next Newbury and Hobbes installment, and if you want a mix of Steampunk, mystery, a touch of supernatural, and zombies, I think I found a book that you should give a chance.
Ever hear of the phrase, “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out”? Well in Ian Healy’s Blood on the Ice, the blood is of a different flavor than your basic in-game scuffle. And in this era of post-brooding-Louis and sparkling bloodsuckers, that’s a good thing.
Healy’s snickering, boyish humor is a highlight of this novel—from the characters’ postmodern comments on vampiric pop culture to the hockey teammates’ constant good-natured trash talking to the wry snarkiness of the “narrator” (a lovely twist as to the identity of the narrator I won’t spoil for you, but wait for the delightful punchline) pull us through this story with tight action and a keen series of cliffhanger chapter endings.
The basic dramatic action is as follows: our slightly naïve young protagonist is a part of a sub-sub-par hockey team in Canada (the Fighting Aardvarks—an awesome name), and is caught in the crossfire as his teammates slowly begin to transform into vampires. Already we have an unconventional pairing—hockey and vampires—that oddly makes a lot of sense. As we follow Hammie through one failed and one successful romance, through his slow discovery of why his teammates are acting so strangely, to his hilariously guilt-trippy parents, unusually brilliant history of vampires and probably the funniest character entrance ever (by a character with an equally ridiculous name: Doogie Van Halen), you get the picture right away that this isn’t your common vampire story, nor is it your common sports-underdog or rom-com story either: it’s a crazy mix of all these things and in the middle, you have characters that are so realistically drawn, you can’t help but root for the home team, even as they mold matzoh balls into bullets.
Three things Healy does especially well in this book: 1) his treatment of the female characters and the romance brewing alongside the action is not in any way sappy, but completely realistic: his women are strong yet feminine, Hammie’s adorable-yet-not-cloying attention to his new love spot-on, and his inclusion of a Goth girl is perfect within the panoply of characters. 2) Healy’s action sequences are exciting without being confusing, detailed without being weighty, and gory to the funniest degree. Of course, we should expect Healy to be good at action scenes, as it’s a bit of a specialty for him: . 3) the thread of the wry Narrator is gripping throughout—sort of a Chorus to the main throughline of the action.
Overall, this is a thrilling, funny read, and I highly recommend it. ~Prof. Jenn
The book’s page on Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/b/38012
His e-book store: http://www.ianthealy.com/blog/?page_id=1321
I have avoided writing book reviews for most of my life. Even when assigned to do so in school, I would try to figure out a different plan of attack. How could I possibly describe a book that has been written by someone else? The way sentences flow together, the chosen words, the character descriptions. The author has already said anything that I would want to say, and in a more pleasing tone.
When I was asked to write a guest post, it was suggested that I do a book review because of my self-proclaimed bibliophile status. My mind swam with the possibilities. Do I take on a book that has just been released? An old favorite that I curl up with on a rainy day? A book that no one has ever heard of?
I decided to talk about one of my favorite books: Passing, by Nella Larsen. Although my usual reads include crime dramas, science fiction, graphic novels or supernatural topics, Passing is none of the above. It is simply an example of some of the best writing to come out of the Harlem Renaissance.
Security. Was it just a word? If not, then was it only by the sacrifice of other things, happiness, love, or some wild ecstasy that she had never known, that it could be obtained? (Passing, 107)
Passing tells the story of two strikingly similar women who lead two very different lives. Concentrating on the issue of skin color, Larsen recounts the experiences of two biracial women living in New York in the early 1900’s. She explores a topic that has not been readily undertaken. Many refuse to believe that racism can exist between members of the same race. Larsen examines race, sexuality, identity, and class differences in this riveting novel.
In the past, African Americans with lighter skin tones would pass as a white person for many different reasons. This novel is set during a time period where African Americans still encountered restrictions because of their skin color. One of the women, Irene, chose to remain in the African American community, despite her fair skin. She has a peaceful, normal life with her family. Her friend Clare Kendry took the dangerous, exciting route. She chose to pass for a white woman in white society. She believed that the societal benefits outweigh the extremely dangerous risks. Irene, however, values security and safety above all else. The most important aspect of her life is the wellbeing of her family. Although Irene ‘passes’ when it is necessary, she prefers to remain in her comfort zone. Both women value security, and they each make significant sacrifices, taking a different approach to obtain what they need in their lives. The demand for assimilation and constant racism that these women encounter makes this an intriguing topic to explore.
This book is a fantastic read for many reasons. It opens up an area of life that many of us have never experienced. I cannot imagine living in a society where you would be cast out because of the color of your skin. Clare’s husband detests African Americans, and she would surely be in mortal danger if he discovered her secret. Personifying the definition of impermanence, Clare floats from one place to the next without ever getting attached. Somehow, she finds the security she craves in the unpredictability of her life.
Written in 1929, this book still rings true today. While we hope that racism is a thing of the past, it still stands strong in many areas of the world. Passing splits the topic of racism wide open, and allows us all to personally experience its horror.