The title of Shannon Gibney’s debut YA novel, See No Color, has a resonance for people (like me) who were around in the 1980s — “Love See No Color,” was a popular motto, often emblazoned on T shirts, and generally seen (by white people, at least) as an idealistic goal: Color didn’t matter! We could all be color blind together and put the terrible past behind us!
Gibney’s book is a critique of that trope. The protagonist, Alexandra “Little” Kirtridge, is in a perfect position to examine it, as the African American adopted daughter of a wealthy white family. Her father is a former professional baseball player and still obsesses on the game as a father and as a coach. Alex is perhaps his favorite project, a high-school girl who plays on teams of boys and excels. The shared love for baseball anchors a wonderfully described father-daughter relationship, but that relationship begins to fray at the seams when Alex discovers her biological father has been trying to contact her for years and her adopted parents have kept his letters a secret. That plus a black boyfriend have Alex doing a little soul searching.
The Kirtridges say repeatedly that race doesn’t matter, and that they (the reader winces) never “saw” Alex “as black.” But of course, Alex is black, and begins to wonder what’s wrong with that, or why her parents would refuse to see it. She begins to realize that she’s been kept from her family and cultural history.
Gibney builds sympathy for the Kirtridges while showing readers how deeply flawed their reasoning is. They are kind, generous, loving parents; they are also wrong. Young adult fiction has been called “morally simple,” but here is one of many books that challenges that pert assumption (as does any book from Carolrhoda Lab). Real parents can be both lovable and frustrating, and Gibney illustrates that beautifully. Alex is complicated herself — her resentment of her parents’ biological children is conveyed with moving honesty. As a child from a well-off family, she also struggles with judging the more working-class family of her boyfriend.
Gibney is at her best describing family relationships, and I look forward to reading more from her. I happen to know that her second book is set in Liberia — an interesting direction to take after a debut novel about baseball and adoption.😉