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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Book review: Class by Lucinda Rosenfeld


I wasn't quite sure what to expect of a novel pitched as involving thoughts on class structure and white liberal attitudes, but I figured it would be somewhere between strident and earnest, two things I hate. Much to my thrill, the tone of this novel was instead, light-hearted and even humorous. And yet it does have many, many discussions of class, income disparity, racism, inequality, opportunity, and so on. But Ms. Rosenfeld handles them with such a light hand that you never once feel like you're being lectured.

Karen works in development at a non-profit, Hungry Kids, and her husband, a former housing lawyer, is working on an app to connect low-income families with housing. Their daughter, Ruby, goes to the local public school very deliberately, where she is one of only 4 white students in her class. But when a boy (African-American, poor) in the class hurts another student (white, not poor), and that student leaves for a neighboring much, much better school, it starts Karen wondering, both about the other school's academic possibilities, and also about her daughter's safety at her school, and how racist is it of Karen if she prioritizes her daughter's education and safety over her experience of diversity? Karen is also experiencing some ennui in her own life, as her job and marriage have become rather boring, and so she makes some poor decisions that get out of hand, add way too much excitement into her life, and possibly blow everything up. The book zips along quickly, possibly aided by the lack of chapters (which I didn't notice until I was 200 pages in although that's something I normally would have noticed sooner and that normally would have bugged me. But it didn't here.) Ms. Rosenfeld skewers white guilt and the lefty free-trade, non-high-fructose-corn-syrup, do-gooder holier-than-thou attitudes mercilessly and humorously. Karen is constantly torn by both belonging to that group, and yet recognizing the ridiculous of it all. In her inner monologue we get to experience the same doubts and questions and inconsistencies that rage in our own minds--is it racist to be worried about these African-American teenagers walking towards me when I'm alone at night and I'm certain that I'd be just as nervous if it was a group of white kids?

I am not a mom but I feel pretty sure all my friends who are would love this book. And it would be perfect for book clubs as there's a ton to discuss. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

I got a free ARC of this book from the publisher at the New England Independent Booksellers Association (NEIBA) annual trade show.

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