Education is the one thing that should make us all equal in terms of future opportunities. But for that to happen, the type of schooling one receives should not be dependent on skin color or zip code.
In 2016, The Gilded Years: A Novel, by Karin Tanabe, hit bookshelves. In 1897, Anita Hemmings was a senior at Vassar College. She is popular, well liked, and on an academic track to do well post graduation. But Anita has a secret. She is African-American. Though she is light skinned enough to pass as Caucasian, there is the ever present danger of being outed for who she really is.
Her new roommate is Louise “Lottie” Taylor, the daughter of a wealthy and prominent New York family. The mask that Anita has been wearing for the last three years begins to crack as the girls become friends. Trouble, as it often does, comes in the form of romance and the opposite sex. Lottie starts crushing on Anita’s younger brother Frederick, who is as light skinned as his sister. In addition, Anita is spending her free time with a handsome and well to do white Harvard student.
With the end of the school year and her degree in sight, Anita’s secret is too close to be revealed. If it is, her entire future is possibly ruined before it has even started.
The narrative, based on a true story, is an interesting cross between School Ties (1992) and Imitation of Life (1959). It takes place in an era in which the idea of women being educated was only starting to become normalized. Add in race and you have a heady mix of social issues and the question of who is worthy of receiving an education. The book is like a powder keg, waiting to explode. It is only a question of when and what the damage will be.
Do I recommend it? Yes.