Book Review: See No Color by Shannon Gibney
Despite some teasing, being a biracial girl adopted by a white family didn’t used to bother Alex much. She was a stellar baseball player, just like her father—her baseball coach and a former pro athlete. All Alex wanted was to play ball forever. But after she meets Reggie, the first black guy who’s wanted to get to know her, and discovers some hidden letters from her biological father, Alex starts questioning who she really is. Does she truly fit in with her white family? What does it mean to be black? To find the answers, Alex needs to come to terms with her adoption, her race, and the dreams she thought would always guide her.
16-year-old Alex and her 15-year-old brother Jason spend most of their time training for baseball, usually practicing three or four hours a day. They lift weights, run, watch videos of games, get lectured by their coach father, and play the game. Baseball, it seems, is what holds their family together. Without it, they don’t seem to have a whole lot to talk about. Alex’s 11-year-old sister Kit doesn’t play and we don’t even know she exists until we meet her working on an art project one day.
While this family is good at baseball, what it really excels at is ignoring the realities and complexities of both race and adoption—specifically of transracial adoption.
At a baseball game, Alex’s dad is talking to the other team’s coach, who mentions he heard the team has a great a center fielder. “A girl, I hear—a black girl,” he says. Alex’s dad corrects him: “She’s mixed, not black. She’s half white.” He’s always quick to point this out. Alex has heard this her whole life—the qualification that she’s mixed, the repeated seemingly-positive phrase that her family “doesn’t see color.” When she meets Reggie, a player from a rival team, she is surprised that a black guy wants to talk to her. Usually the black kids at her school make fun of her. In her head, as Reggie’s talking to her, she thinks, “But I’m not really black.” Seconds later, when Reggie comments on the similar features he can see between her and her (adoptive) dad, she lies and says her mom is black, letting him believe both that lie and the lie that they are her biological parents.
Soon after this, Alex’s sister Kit finds an old letter from Alex’s birth father, leading Alex to a folder of many letters written over three years. Suddenly, all of the things she didn’t even necessarily know she wanted answers about bubble to the surface. Her family may have made it this far without ever really talking about race or transracial adoption, but Alex (with the help of Kit) begins to push them to.
Mixed into the narrative are incidents from Alex’s past, such as being a small child at the beach and a rude woman telling her she’s floated too far from her “host family.” The woman goes on to ask if she speaks English and asks where she’s from. When Alex’s white mother appears, the woman’s tiny brain explodes. She sputters over how it could be possible that this girl belongs to this woman. When Alex’s mom tries to make her feel better about what happened, she says, “We are all one in this family, okay? We don’t even see color.” As readers, we understand that Alex’s family believes this to be true and to be a good thing. But of course, their constant correction that she’s mixed proves otherwise, and claiming to be colorblind isn’t really helping anything, as it ignores and invalidates identities and experiences.
Kit is the one who really pushes this conversation, asking her family what they actually think about Alex being the only black person in an otherwise white family. She says she sees how people stare at their family. “But it’s like this secret, you know? Like no one is supposed to actually admit that she’s black, or maybe more that she’s not white.” Of course, we all know what her father does, right? “Alex is only half black,” he says. Just in case anyone forgot. But this family doesn’t see color. Later, Alex exasperatedly says to Kit that she doesn’t even know what “mixed,” her dad’s favorite word, is supposed to mean. “Mixed. As far as I can tell, it means closer to white for Mom and Dad, and the lightest shade of black for everyone else.” Later, her father, apparently trying to be loving and reassuring, tells her, “I just want you to know that your mother and I, we will always see you as just you, as Alex. There’s nothing black—or particularly… racial–about you to us because you’re our little girl and always will be.” Alex notes that the way he says “black” is cringe-inducing, “like it was the worst thing a person could be,” but that when her dad says “mixed,” he sounds prideful. More of these conversations happen over and over with her family.
Alex chooses to pursue getting in touch with her birth father, a black man who lives in Detroit, behind her parents’ backs. She’s dating Reggie at this point, another thing she keeps secret from her family. She isn’t entirely honest with him about a lot of things in her life, despite him being a really good guy and them having some powerful and important conversations about race. She doesn’t give him the chance to be there for her as she goes through a lot of emotions as she connects with her birth father.
These two main storylines—race and transracial adoption—made this book ping my radar. I’m glad I pulled it out of my pile to read because it is a thought-provoking, engaging, and well-written debut. The fact that it’s a relatively quick read and has a sports storyline may help it get into the hands of some readers who wouldn’t necessarily gravitate toward it. In the end, there is still a lot left unresolved, but we know Alex is seeking a sense of community, or maybe of communities, plural, and feeling more okay about the many pieces that make up her life and the possibilities that are ahead of her. A really compelling read. I would love to see this taught in a classroom and be able to eavesdrop on a conversation, but I’ll settle for recommending the heck out of it at the library.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/01/2015
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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