Notes on Her Color

Oh, how I wanted to love this book! [“Notes on Her Color” Jennifer Neal, Catapult, May 2023] Centered on a young Black and Indigenous woman growing up in Florida, this debut novel has several strong plot elements and rises above in moments but ultimately isn’t sure what it wants to be: Queer love story? YA story of sexual abuse? Excoriating narrative of white supremacy? Coming of age of a budding brilliant classical pianist? The varied narrative threads become as swirlingly disorienting at the sudden hurricane at the end of the novel. Gabrielle is close to her mother Tallulah – sharing not only the bond of two women surviving in a house with a brutal man but also a special talent: they can shift the color of their skin. Gabrielle’s violent, drunk, and yet somehow also successful financier father insists that his entire home be kept in shades of white – white walls, white rugs, white dishes, white food, and most of all – white skin on both his wife and daughter. He’s Black and it’s confusing how he survives in his conservative world of bankers when he’s clearly a barely functioning drunk. The two women hide spices in each other’s clothes and bags and under pillows. But when her father decides Gabrielle will have to take a year off before going to college, she spends that time developing a love for music ultimately finding a space for herself outside her home with her music instructor and lover, the older and more experienced Dominique. Where Gab’s home is starkly white, Dom’s home is full of spicy food, warm family, and – shoved in awkwardly – Black Feminism. Because there are so many story threads attempted here, it’s difficult for the reader to keep up or to feel the full weight of crisis moments: Gab’s near gang rape by highschool boys, Tallulah’s descent into madness, or Gab’s strange decision to reject Dom in the final scenes of the novel. A truly interesting premise with powerfully important elements that unfortunately get lost in too many story lines.





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