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Faith Knight
As Gray As Black & White
Faith Knight, author
A blonde haired blue eyed boy learns he is black during segregation in Alabama
Knight masterfully balances the personal and the political in her young adult debut, an engrossing portrait of a Southern teenager who, in the midst of the social upheaval of the Civil Rights Movement, learns that he’s biracial. In 1966 Alabama, no one would have used that word to describe Mark Lawson. Instead, he’s called mixed, colored, and even mulatto, but the blue-eyed blonde so baffles racists that one dubs him a white n-word. With adroit first-person narration, Knight captures Mark’s amiability and thoughtfulness, even when he damages important relationships because of anger, fear, and a debilitating uncertainty. Knight is especially strong at dramatizing how it feels to grow up as monumental change happens in increments, with segregation making Mark’s search for identity a legal and moral minefield.

Mark’s family had moved from a tenant farming community to Montgomery after his father’s death, and his white mother allowed the 14-year-old’s appearance to determine their place in the segregated city. After the board of education expels Mark from a white school, they must relocate to a Black neighborhood, and his mother loses her subsistence job. Mark can deal with the privation—they’d always been poor—but his mother’s worsening porphyria is a constant worry, and while Frederick Douglass High School provides him with a heartening vision of Black community, he remains unsure of where he truly belongs.

Discussions about the drawn-out process of desegregation (an afterword provides helpful details) are deftly woven into Mark’s interactions with family, friends, teachers, and members of his integrated baseball team. Everyone knows they’re living through a major societal shift, and are trying to find—or regain— their footing. Through Mark’s experience on both sides of the racial divide, Knight shows the difference between having empathy and suffering the forced restrictions of segregation. In the process of reconstructing his fractured self, Mark gains the maturity to see that identity is forged from contradictions, and that struggle is another word for life.

Takeaway: Vivid and wise historical fiction about a biracial teen in 1960s Alabama.

Comparable Titles: Phillip Hoose’s Claudette Colvin, Kristin Levine’s The Lions of Little Rock.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A-