The identities we have and the identities cast upon us often affect how we navigate society. In different societies, different identities change our everyday interactions.
When I am staying in Nigeria, the most defining identities are my age and gender, when I’m in Canada for school my identities form a thick thread, my age, gender, race and immigration status intertwine. These all affect how I am received by people and how I approach different situations.
Just Like a Caucasian follows the lives of four teenagers who are all racial minorities in America. They come together to help a film student with a documentary on race in America. Although the teens are racial minorities they also have other identities, identities that may reduce or aggravate the racial tensions they experience in America. Gay, Christian, rich, poor, immigrant and so on.
The book used the different POVs of the teens to explain what was going on. Although they were young, they were very knowledgeable and asked a lot of valid questions. They navigated issues like race, ethnicity, class, religion and more. I loved that the book didn’t only rely on anecdotal evidence, but cited events that happened, some events decades ago, some events months ago.
I connected to these teens, especially when they kept asking, “What is the point of this discussion?” I often ask myself those questions, I ask them in my lectures and I ask them online. I don’t know that the question can be answered, even though the book attempted to answer it. I enjoyed that they were all from different backgrounds and didn’t fit into some homogenous mold of what teenagers should be like.
Of course, there is no perfect book, and this book does have aspects that could be improved. Although the book moved through different POVs, we weren’t really given an insight into the thoughts of all the kids. There was limited interaction with people outside of the project, which failed to show how the kids navigated through society based on the intersections of their identities. Even the teens did not interact with each other outside of the project for majority of the book. Sometimes the conversations seemed forced, and sometimes it felt like they were used as fillers.
Debut novels are hard to pull off successfully, and Just Like a Caucasian is a great debut novel. Odera O’Gonuwe used the lives of everyday teens to construct discussions around race and racial tensions and that is applaudable. You may ask, “What is the point of such discussions?” and I’ll be honest with you, I still don’t know. But I think we both hope that these discussions will open spaces where we can come together and address these issues.
You can purchase Just Like a Caucasian on Amazon, the prices differ based on the format you choose.
*Disclaimer: This book was sent to me to review, however I stayed unbiased in my review of the novel*