10 20 2014
  5:34 pm  
     •     
McMenamins

"When I was 7, I told my father that I wanted to grow up to be invisible." So begins author Rachel M. Harper's "Brass Ankle Blues" (Touchstone, $23), the coming-of-age story of Nellie Kincaid, a 15-year-old girl of mixed-race heritage.
Nellie is struggling to come to terms with her parents' impending divorce while renegotiating her place in a world where she is neither wholly Black nor entirely White.


Nellie and her father, a professorofAfrican American literature, are traveling from their home in Boston to their summer house in rural Minnesota, which is home to most of her mother's relatives. Normally an annual summer trip, this year is filled with new tensions, as it's the first visit since her parents announced their separation after 20 years of marriage. It's also Nellie's first time traveling anywhere without her entire family unit. Accompanying them is Nellie's first cousin Jess, a troubled White girl from Virginia who hasn't seen any of her relatives, including Nellie's father, since she was a child.


Throughout the intense summer, as she deals with the complexities of first love and shifting family loyalties, Nellie moves toward a definition of self that encompasses all aspects of her truly American identity. As she struggles to define herself racially, she also tries to place herself in the framework of her complex, and often secretive, extended family.


With depth and compassion, Harper charts the journey of a young woman's first encounters with our vast and sometimes dangerous country, in all its conflicting beauty.

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