Unfortunately, this is another book I’m slightly shrinking from reviewing, pretty sure I am not going to do it justice (see Lynsey Hanley’s “Respectable“). I don’t THINK I’m having a reviewing slump, more that I’m aware of my privileges, my fairly narrow lived experience and a desire not to impose those things on books where I’m not that knowledgeable about the milieu they discuss. Of course we should read books about other people’s experiences to broaden our outlook on the world, but I think with a book that has many layers and includes what, as I will say, I think is a very satirical edge, there’s always a danger of doing a very, very shallow reading and missing a lot. Having said that, I also believe that the reader creates the book they’re reading, so I will share my impressions with the caveat that I know I have missed an awful lot.

This was the first book I’d read of Senna’s for almost two decades. I loved her “From Caucasia With Love” and have kept it through many a book cull (but haven’t re-read it). I knew this one, too, would be about race and perceptions, but I think (though I can’t be sure) that a lot of it is satirising the earnest people who reclaim their heritage, or a tiny bit of it (there’s certainly a white character who seems to be savaged for revisiting his 1/16 Hispanic heritage and ending up almost fully Hispanic and completely “other” to his starting point). So Maria and her fiance Khalil are kind of poster children for the “New People” who are racially mixed, pleasing to look at, with perfect houses and, in fact, the subjects of a documentary being created by some even more earnest people. Khalil’s sister Lisa is very into her head-wraps and there’s a huge cultural pull between places to get wedding dresses.

When we meet Maria, she’s just become obsessed with a poet, and starts to stalk him in quite an unpleasant way that made me feel uncomfortable. One review suggests she loses her mind, becoming forgetful and lost: I’m not sure about that, but she certainly goes way too far. At first, there are faintly amusing repercussions, as she is mistaken by a white woman who presumably thinks all beige people are the same for her Hispanic maid and gets trapped in her apartment for a while. Things turn a bit nasty later, but not as nasty as I feared.

There’s a lot about notions of community, belonging and conforming – as well as being part of these New People, Maria was adopted and she’s studying the Jonestown Massacre. But when Maria breaks out, it’s uncomfortable rather than exciting, and I’m not sure what the author is saying. It’s left on a cliff-hanger but I found it difficult to care about what happened, especially because Maria is constantly hearing through others that she’s an unpleasant person and she’s made a very poor choice which felt in some way logical but in many ways incomprehensible.

But, as I said, I am pretty sure I have missed layers and layers of satire and skewering, although I’m not sure. For the record, I wasn’t made uncomfortable by the satirising of the people closest to me in colour and lifestyle, it did feel equally balanced. But I’m not sure what I made of this book or if I am able to review it adequately.

Thank you to the publisher, Penguin Group / Riverhead Books for making this available via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

This review on Shiny New Books echoes my difficulties with the book.