5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A Look from the Bottom,
This review is from: A Wish After Midnight (Paperback)
There are few speculative fiction works that have a person of color as their central character, possibly the result of the fact that the great majority of sf writers are white. This is a very nice exception to this general picture.
Genna is a modern-day 15 year old living in the slums of New York. She's intelligent, ambitious, determined to go to college and leave the slums behind, and works hard at making that plan come true. But she's also shy, has typical teenage concerns about her looks and whether she can attract a boy who can understand her, and has a rather dysfunctional family whom she feels obligated to help. She also has real trouble understanding those people for whom `black' is synonymous with `trash', and chafes under the unwritten rules of our society that say that blacks can go this far, and no further, and are not admissible to the upper ranks of society.
All this is presented in the early sections of this book, and forms a very good character study, along with a well-painted picture of just what life is really like in the ghetto. But then she is magically transported back to the New York of 1863, where she is taken for a runaway slave, and where every aspect of this society places her not just at the bottom of the heap, but buried under a mountain of class and permissible action restrictions, where racism is not a dirty word, but the accepted norm of the day, except for a very few who are fighting to change that status quo. Genna's adaptation to this new world is adroitly done, though I did feel in spots that she, due to her modern-day perspective and attitudes, would have been more prone to make unacceptable mistakes in actions and words that would have netted her even more punishment than what is actually shown. But the world of this time is very nicely shown, more between the lines than by actual exposition, as we only see it from Genna's viewpoint. It's a world that will seem quite alien to people of today, and provides both a great perspective of just how much has changed in terms of race relations and just how much attitudes of prejudice still color our present world.
The ending is, perhaps, a little weak, but does complete the picture of Genna's maturation from girl to woman, and the story as a whole is both an excellent history lesson and a wakeup call to those who think that the issue of racism in America is no longer a major concern.
Given the scenario above, this book invites comparison to Octavia Butler's Kindred, which has a very similar plot and theme. Put side-by-side, this book stacks up quite well, though I would have to give the edge to Kindred, if only because of its more adult viewpoint. But both provide an excellent look at this period of American history, both have strong relevance to the world of today, and both should probably be read by all.
---Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)