General Rating: A thought-provoking read addressing racism, both blatant and subliminal. The author perfectly portrays a twenty-something African American and thirty-something white woman.
Skip factor: 2%. I skipped a minimal amount. There were times I couldn’t wait to see what happened and hopped text to read dialogue—strictly the fault of the reader not the author.
Who should read: Any socially conscious woman. Umm. And maybe frivolous suburban or career-driven mothers.
Summary: Emira is a twenty-something African American Temple University graduate who, like most twenty-year-olds, is unsure where she is headed. She has a good set of friends charting their own courses, some a bit lost like her and others on track. Emira works two part-time jobs, one as a typist for the Green Party and the other as a babysitter three days a week for Peter and Alix Chamberlain.
Alix Chamberlain is a driven, self-made influencer who is struggling to juggle career, motherhood, and her move from New York City to Philadelphia. Peter is a rising newscaster who, quite out of character, makes a racist remark and finds himself at odds with the public. When his house is egged one evening (they exaggerate the action to stoned for merit,) his wife, Alix, calls their babysitter, African American Emira Tucker, begging her to come get their toddler, Briar, out of the house. Alix admits she has had a few drinks at a party, but the Chamberlains don’t care. Emira is the only person they trust Briar with. So Emira, and her friend, Zara, show up to take Briar to a neighborhood grocery store to pass time. There, a white woman insinuates something is fishy about the relationship between Briar, Emira, and Zara to a security guard and accusations quickly escalate.
Enter thirty-something male, Kelly, with his IPhone camera, recording. He calls the incident an injustice, defends Emira, and films all despite not knowing Emira and Zara. Emira calls Peter Chamberlain. Peter rushes there and confirms Emira, indeed, is Briar’s babysitter.
The story is told from two perspectives. Emira, who loves babysitting Briar, is content with her life but knows she must eventually secure “adult” employment; and Alix, who is content with nothing and constantly yearns for approval and respect. The reader becomes immersed in each of their lives, and finds a myriad of racial inequities and inuendos, some harder than others to spot.
Without spoiling the story, Kelly and Emira begin dating only to find out, later, that Kelly was Alix’s high-school boyfriend who broke her heart.
Characters: Reid balances Emira’s calm and collected personality marvelously with Alix’s driven and anxious behavior. There were traits I enjoyed in each. Surprises, too. Here are the characters in my favorite order.
Briar captured my heart from the moment she entered the picture. Clearly, Reid sees the beautiful innocence and wonder of children. She creates a marvelous, chatty toddler who has a heart-warming curiosity and longs to capture her mother’s affection. You can’t help but love her.
Emira is not jumping full force into adulthood. She’s shuffling. There were times when she didn’t defend herself and moments she seemed not to care about her future that perplexed me. Yet, her contentment with her simple life was part of what I loved about her. Add her showering of unconditional love onto Briar, with whom she practiced patience and understanding, she exemplified the perfect babysitter and I fell in love with her.
Zara – I loved Zara best of all Emira’s friends because she was entertaining, witty, fun, and added flair to Emira’s sometimes plain personality.
Peter surprised me. He was not the type of person to make a racial slur so I thought more about him than any other character, wondering if the author wanted us to understand racism exists far more than we realize—in all of us.
Alix is an exhausting character. Her background predisposes her to a fixation on Emira. Alix had been accused of racism in the past and wants to prove she is not racist, which inevitably, propels her racism. Despite her flaws, I liked her. She was too driven, too worried about what people thought of her, but the writer somehow inspired my compassion toward her. I’m not completely sure how. (Maybe her own compassion bled into the story?)
Kelly, Emira’s boyfriend, is transfixed with helping African Americans. He befriends, dates, and stands up for African Americans—too much. In my book club, someone referred to him as having white-savior syndrome. My surprise of him was once while he is at Emira’s apartment, he moves to the other room to call his parents. This totally confused me. Was he hiding that he was dating an African American? Book-club friends made less of this. They chalked it up to a new relationship. (I’d love to know why Reid wrote this into the story.)
All other minor characters added to the story. Emira and Alix both had other friends wander in and out of chapters, all with reason. I liked them but didn’t love them. They existed to augment Emira’s and Alix’s stories. The author did well with these secondaries who were discreetly necessary.
Storyline: Intriguing. Reminded me of a modern-day The Help. I was not alone in this thought. Book-club buddies made the same comparison: an African American raising a white child, teaching her better life lessons than her mother, and a white suburban woman consumed with status and attempting to prove she was helping African Americans. (Suggesting Emira wear a t-shirt while babysitting WAS NOT requiring her to wear a uniform—oh no, definitely not a uniform. She simply wanted Emira to protect her clothes while painting, playing, etc with Briar.)
I loved this story. I’d like to re-read and find more on the author’s intent, to see what I missed.
Writing: I loved Reid’s writing. I highlighted sentences for both simplicity and depth! To me, someone who enjoys dialogue, she mixed dialogue and description to perfection.
Read this author again? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake and Project Dream, two crime thrillers with sixth-sense components, Friends Who Move Couches and Don’t Mind Me, I Came with the House, women’s fiction. Zahner’s Dream Series novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. Listen to her interview about her 9/11 a premonition here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Listen to her Online Book Circle podcast here. Or read more about Zahner in Voyage Raleigh.
Read more about Zahner in Voyage Raleigh at https://voyageraleigh.com/interview/rising-stars-meet-cyndie-cj-zahner-of-wendell-falls-area.