Passin’ by Karen E. Quinones Miller

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Trade, 295 pages, 2008

Rating: 9/10

Reason for Reading: The plot sounded intriguing.

Synopsis: Shanika Ann Jenkins is proudly African-American – and born fair, blonde and blue-eyed, thanks to what her grandmother calls ‘marrying well.’ When she’s turned down for a dream job in New York City because she’s not black enough, she decides to pass for white – it’s not her fault what people assume, is it? But soon enough everything spirals out of control, and she’s no longer sure who she is – or even who she wants to be.

Why you should read this book: Entwined with the thought-provoking aspect of Shanika passing for another race is the pure entertainment value of her catching a glimpse of the party lifestyle that has made her want to do PR for celebrities. The characters are all very realistic and completely believable, from Shanika’s outraged brother to the party-girl socialites to several very powerful but different love interests. Passin’ very easily could have slipped into ‘A Life Lesson’ sort of book but instead hooks you deeply into Shanika’s changing perspectives and flows as a well-rounded story with a clever hook that will keep the pages turning for a variety of reasons.

Why you should avoid this book: At points in the book there’s a little too much told to the reader instead of shown to the reader – the impact would be greater if the reader was allowed to draw her own conclusions through Shanika’s actions instead of having everything spelled out. It’s not heavy-handed too often, though, so keep it on your ‘want’ list.

Opening paragraph:

‘Didn’t I tell you, Mama? Her skin is so thin and light you can see her little blue veins. I’m telling you, she’s gonna have skin as white as Meryl Streep’s. And look at that blond hair. That ain’t no hair that’s going to be napping up!’

Fabulous quotes:

The clerk shrugged. ‘What can I say? You can find cheaper clothes in New York, too. But if you want fine clothes, you’re going to have to spend fine money. That’s the way of the world, honey, especially the world of Madison Avenue boutiques.’
Definitely a world I want in, Shanika thought later as she lay across the bed in her hotel room. A world I’ll be in if I get this job. Scratch that. When I get this job. I’m claiming it.

‘As I was saying,’ Mrs. Randolph continued, ‘you need to be honest with yourself. Honest about why you’re passing, for instance. Obviously, it’s not just so you could get your foot in the door, because you’re in now. So is it so you can climb the corporate ladder? I wouldn’t say that’s a bad reason. But is that the only reason? For instance, do you pass only here at Paxon and Green, or in your personal life as well?’

Also recommended: The January Girl by Goldie Taylor; Passing by Nella Larsen; Everyone Else’s Girl by Megan Crane.

Also by this author: Satin Doll; I’m Telling; Using What You Got; Ida B. (Uptown Dreams); Satin Nights.

Author’s website:

Fun tidbit: Miller is a former reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, as well as a former correspondent for People.

Would I read more by this author? I would check out future novels but probably lack the reading time to go back to her previous ones.

&#169 Lisa Yanaky 2003-2008

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