Review | Just Like A Caucasian by Odera O’Gonuwe

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WARNING! If you or a loved one exhibits any one of these qualities, you are responsible for aiding and abetting a vicious system of racism and xenophobia intended on strengthening white supremacy.

That’s the blurb at the back of the book. I think its a bit hardcore, but it provides a taste of what the story is about, in case the title doesn’t tip you off.

Just Like a Caucasian is a novella about 4 teenagers and their experiences as racial minorities in America, and a 5th character, Rose, a black college student, making a documentary and essay about race through the eyes of minorities. Rose’s project gives the teenagers an outlet to express all their anger and disappointment about the minefield that is racial tensions in America. Read the goodreads description.

I received a signed paperback copy of this novella, as a Christmas present from my aunt, in 2017. The author, Odera O’Gonuwe, was 17 when she wrote it, and my aunt thought it would be nice to read the book, so I could be encouraged to explore my own writing.

In the author’s note, Ms. O’Gonuwe wrote that her “purpose is to speak truthfully on racism and how it affects minority youth”, and I think she does just that. The novel features Michael, a Christian Arab—he’s the cynic in the group, Bianca, a Hispanic American and former-model, Ndidi, a Nigerian American blogger, and Mohammed, a gay Black American. Each of them had unique experiences because of their varying identities. Chapters were dedicated to one character at a time, and jumped between the characters.

I think the novella is a great effort. It explores intersectionality—how an individual’s identities intersect or combine to affect their experiences, and create varying degrees of discrimination—without actually naming the term (watch Kimberlé Crenshaw’s TED talk to learn more). There was some discussion about how one character’s wealth provides a form of privilege, in spite of the racial discrimination they face.

And I liked some of the quotes. Including these two:

“We’ve been talking about the -isms and -phobias since forever. It’s 2017. As of today, if you don’t know what’s going on in the modern world, you are part of the problem.”  ~Michael, p. 12

and

“I realized I was black at age ten. I also realised that blackness is not something I could take off. My foreign name and ethnic foods didn’t and wouldn’t hide me from the racism. At best, it would simply come in different forms.”                                                                ~Ndidi, p. 71

However, a lot of the dialogue wasn’t very conversational. It was just large blocks of text one after the other, and sometimes it was confusing to figure out which character was saying what. The dialogue seemed more like the writer portraying her agenda (which to some extent she was) and less about aiding the flow of the story, or contributing to the narrative. I think that turned me off pretty early on in the story. That’s why it took me so long to read (I’ve tried and failed to read this book twice now).

So, while the discussion about race is important to have, I don’t think the method was very effective in this novella. I didn’t connect with any of the characters, not even the Nigerian one, and I feel like the documentary was just an excuse to have a bunch of teenagers rant about race. Don’t get me wrong, I think the experience might be cathartic for some people. It’s just not my cup of tea.

For that reason, I’d rate this book 2 out of 5 stars. It was an okay read, and I commend the author for pursuing her passion. I’ll definitely check out her other works. You should read this book if you’re interested in learning more about racism in America (it’s pretty beginner friendly).

It’s almost Saturday! I’m excited about that. And it’s Easter Sunday this weekend too, so I’m going to be reflecting on all of that. What are you up to this weekend? And what are you reading currently? (you can follow me on goodreads to get updates about what I’m reading). Have a great weekend!

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