I have to first begin by confessing that satisfying my insatiable love of books can be quite expensive at times. That nice little library fine that keeps me up at night has prevented me from obtaining many new hardcover publications for free. Thus, my heart leaped for joy when I saw many of my high school seniors walking around the school with this week’s book review What we Lose by Zinzi Clemmons. I immediately ran down the hall in my three inch heels to my school’s fabulous senior English teacher and asked if she had an additional copy she would not mind loaning me for the weekend. To my surprise, my coworker told me that she was best friends with the author and could give me a copy for free! I really wanted to ask her if she could somehow get Zinzi to autograph it, but I did not want to push it!
What we Lose tells the story of Thandi, daughter of an African American college professor and a light skinned South African immigrant mother who works as a nurse in Philadelphia. The book highlights Thandi’s repeated struggles to explore and affirm her identity dealing with issues surrounding race or the loss of a parent. Clemmons had me hooked after the first three chapters. I felt that she was in many ways telling my life story. I fully identified with her characters repeated brush with her peer’s limited and, at times, ignorant understanding of what it means to “be, talk, look, and act Black” while coming of age. I also appreciated her raw portrayal of Thandi’s struggle to come to terms with losing her mother to breast cancer and her attempt to anesthetize herself with a relationship of convenience that eventually led to marriage and a child. Her periodic anecdotal facts throughout the book about the current inequalities in our healthcare system and the disproportionate rate of deaths within the African American community from cancer, heart disease, and diabetes forces white suburban and black upper middle class readers who have chosen to discuss What we Lose in the confines of their comfortable suburban homes and hipster coffee shops that Thandi’s fictional experience is a reality unfairly shared by many members of the African American community.
I would like to dive more into the book, but I do not want to give away all of the details. I can only say that it is an easy read and well worth it. When you finish, you will walk away feeling that Thandi was you, or someone you knew growing up, and as adult just trying to come to terms with who you are in life.
Until next time. Peace, love, and hair grease!