Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley. Open Road is doing the kindle edition of this previously released work.
Ginny has a problem. It’s a huge problem. She doesn’t know a great many things. She lives with her father in a town in Wales, and she is one of the few people of color in the village. She has never met her Haitian mother from who she inherits artistic skill, talent, and interest.
In many ways, while not perfect, Ginny’s life is good. But then, as is always the case in such books, something happens and things change. In this case, change is brought the visit of a woman, who sparks a desire or allows Ginny to give voice to questions.
While race is not a huge factor in the novel, it does make an appearance, or several. And yet this is not a novel about race. It’s true that Ginny does deal with racism in both a family setting and a societal setting. It is also true that she is not the only person of color to do so, yet the focus of the book is the mystery that Ginny must solve – the mystery of her past.
That mystery concerns her much loved father, and that mystery is one that is not dependent on race.
It sounds strange, perhaps. But think about, how many mass market teen and pre-teen books with a poc as hero/heroine have a race as a central theme and/or driving plot point? This book doesn’t ignore race; Ginny is called slurs, she wonders about her sense of self as a poc being raised only by a white father in a white community, and she wonders about art and race. Yet removal those conversations or change them to reflect a different minority group, and the story is about any teenager and the search for identity. It’s refreshing really.
It’s true at some points one feels that Ginny’s mother as passionate outsider is a bit of an over played trope (poc is passionate, white family is passionless), yet Pullman does not go down that tired old road.
In terms of the mystery that Ginny solves, too say too much about it would give away major spoilers. Much of the mystery plot does work, and there are one or two places where disbelief does need to be suspended a little.
And yes, this book does pass the Bechdel test. Ginny’s best friend is Rhiannon and why they do at times talk about boys, they talk about more. The two girls have a great and real friendship. It is one of the charms of the book. Ginny is not the only good woman/girl in a world of men. She has female friends and they act female as opposed to men with boobs.
There are wonderful touches in the book – in particular with Ginny’s interest in art and how it manifests in a variety of ways. There are some wonderful passages about the scenery and places, in particular Ginny’s kingdom – a passage that details a very real connection to places.