Wednesday, July 27, 2016

THE GILDED YEARS by Karen Tanabe


“Tanabe immerses the reader in a world of romance and manners, but also leaves you gripping the edge of your seat…An elegant and extremely gratifying imagining of one remarkable woman's life.” —USA TODAY

Since childhood, Anita Hemmings has longed to attend the country’s most exclusive school for women, Vassar College. Now, a bright, beautiful senior in the class of 1897, she is hiding a secret that would have banned her from admission: Anita is the only African-American student ever to attend Vassar. With her olive complexion and dark hair, this daughter of a janitor and descendant of slaves has successfully passed as white, but now finds herself rooming with Louise “Lottie” Taylor, the scion of one of New York’s most prominent families. Though Anita has kept herself at a distance from her classmates, Lottie’s sphere of influence is inescapable, her energy irresistible, and the two become fast friends. Pulled into her elite world, Anita learns what it’s like to be treated as a wealthy, educated white woman—the person everyone believes her to be—and even finds herself in a heady romance with a moneyed Harvard student. It’s only when Lottie becomes infatuated with Anita’s brother, Frederick, whose skin is almost as light as his sister’s, that the situation becomes particularly perilous. And as Anita’s college graduation looms, those closest to her will be the ones to dangerously threaten her secret. Set against the vibrant backdrop of the Gilded Age, an era when old money traditions collided with modern ideas, Tanabe has written an unputdownable and emotionally compelling story of hope, sacrifice, and betrayal—and a gripping account of how one woman dared to risk everything for the chance at a better life.

Anita Hemmings looks white, but is partly black. And  in 1894 that fact alone will segregate her from many things, including an education from a prestigious school. So keeping her black heritage a secret, and after taking and passing the entrance exams, she enters Vassar University, her life long dream, despite Vassar's anti-black policy. She struggles to keep her race a secret, even from her white socialite room mate with whom she has developed a close friendship.

This novel explores what it means to be black in a white world and the risks members of the black race faced in thir struggle for equal rights. I could not help but admire the protaganist and her determined, courageous stance to overcome her obstacles. Poignant and heart-wrenching, the plot was gripping as Anita faces danger and is forced to risk all in her aim to keep her secret.

This is a story of contrasts - of rich and poor, of black and white, of educated and uneducated, and of the struggle to survive against insurmountable odds. Thought-provoking, this would me a great read for book clubs!

Thank you to the author and publisher. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for visiting my blog, http://greathistoricals.blogspot.ca, where the greatest historical fiction is reviewed! For fascinating women of history bios and women's fiction please visit http://www.historyandwomen.com.
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