Stella and Desiree Vignes are twin sisters born and raised in Mallard, Louisiana and inseparable through childhood. Mallard is not exactly a town but more of a place with an identity. “The town had never actually been a town at all. State officials considered it a village but the United States Geological Survey referred to it only as a populated place.”
Mallard was unique, “A town that, like any other, was more idea than place…The idea arrived to Alphonse Decuir in 1848…A town for men like him, who would never be accepted as white but refused to be treated like Negroes…” The town consisted of very light skinned African Americans. Stella and Desiree fell into this category, as did their mother, Agnes. Their father had been lynched and murdered when they were children.
The novel starts with Desiree returning to Mallard in 1968, after having left in 1954 at the age of 16. Stella and Desiree had run away to New Orleans and lived together until Stella disappeared and abandoned Desiree in 1956. Desiree found herself in Washington DC, married to an abusive man and with a daughter, Jude. Desiree returns to Mallard in an effort to escape her abusive marriage and because she has nowhere else to go. Jude is elementary school age at the time and an outcast in the town because of the very dark color of her skin. “They weren’t used to having a dark child amongst them and were surprised by how much it upset them.” By the time Desiree returned to Mallard it had been 13 years since she had heard from Stella.
Stella, as it happened, had “passed over” and was living in Los Angeles with her white husband, Blake Sanders, and their blond child, Kennedy. Apparently no one was aware that she was in fact, black, and she was fearful that someone would find out.
The years go by and Desiree stays in Mallard and has a relationship with a kind man named Early Jones. Jude gets a track scholarship to UCLA and goes off to California for school. During her first year she meets Reese Carter and they develop a romantic relationship which lasts throughout the novel. Reese is a transgender man, which causes some complexity in the relationship.
Jude works a number of odd jobs while in college and while working a catering job at a party in Los Angeles, she sees Stella. Jude befriends Kennedy and if you want to know what happens you need to read the book. Ultimately, Jude goes to medical school, Agnes dies, and a lot happens in between.
The story is clever and an enjoyable read. That said, I did not like it as much as I felt I was supposed to, the characters and places seemed contrived and the writing is just so so. I have read worse and I have read better! You can reserve the novel at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.
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