Zora and Nicky: A Novel in Black and White

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Two Hearts, One God.
Should Anything Else Matter?

Zora Nella Hampton Johnson knows exactly where she comes from—and her daddy won't let her forget. Of course for that privilege he keeps her in Prada and Kate Spade, Coach and YSL. He chooses her boyfriend, her car, her address, and ignores her love of painting, art, and the old ways of her grandaddy's soulful AME church—where the hymns pleaded, cajoled, and raised the roof. Her daddy may be a ...

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Zora and Nicky: A Novel in Black and White

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Two Hearts, One God.
Should Anything Else Matter?

Zora Nella Hampton Johnson knows exactly where she comes from—and her daddy won't let her forget. Of course for that privilege he keeps her in Prada and Kate Spade, Coach and YSL. He chooses her boyfriend, her car, her address, and ignores her love of painting, art, and the old ways of her grandaddy's soulful AME church—where the hymns pleaded, cajoled, and raised the roof. Her daddy may be a preacher, but some-where among the thousands of church members, the on-site coffee house, and the JumboTron, Zora lost God. And she wants Him back.

Nicky Parker, a recent graduate of Berkeley and reformed playboy, also suffers the trials of being a preacher's kid, and he can't remember the last time he saw eye-to-eye with his white, racist, Southern Baptist father. What he does remember—and it will be forever burned in his brain despite myriad prayers to Jesus—is the way Zora looked the first time he saw her. Like Nefertiti. Only better. When they meet at a bible study far from their respective home churches, the first churlish, sarcastic sparks that fly sizzle with defensiveness. But God has a special way of feeding the flames and though of different flocks, these two lost sheep will find Him and much, much more.

Click Here to listen to an interview with Claudia Mair Burney.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The voice of beautiful Zora Nella Hampton Johnson-her name echoing the author of her favorite novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God-will take you up and carry you along until she utters her very last syllable. Anger, laughter and delight come from Zora's sharp, sassy tongue as if she is talking out loud. Burney's gift for voice is not limited to her heroine, though it takes her longer to get the other main character, Nicky Parker, the handsome but poor son of a racist pastor, to shine as distinctly as Zora. At this novel's heart are love and race-what happens when a self-described BAP (black American princess), the daughter of a famous megachurch leader, falls in love with a young white man. Zora and Nicky's dialogue about race is unflinching, with attitude, honesty and occasional humor. Burney pushes her prose to the edge of the edgiest in the "Christian fiction" genre, and then barrels right over. She doesn't sugar-coat, especially when it comes to sex, yet she manages to create a love story that's both erotic and chaste. Faith in Jesus comes to life on the page through Zora and Nicky's intense, if imperfect, soul searching. Though parts are a bit melodramatic, Burney gives readers a page-turner for all audiences, Christian and beyond. (Apr.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780781445504
  • Publisher: Cook, David C
  • Publication date: 4/1/2008
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 5.58 (w) x 10.88 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Claudia Mair Burney is the author of the novel Zora and Nicky: A Novel in Black and White, as well as the Amanda Bell Brown Mysteries and the Exorsista series for teens. Her work has appeared in Discipleship Journal magazine, The One Year Life Verse Devotional Bible, and Justice in the Burbs. She lives in Michigan with her husband, five of their seven children, and a quirky dwarf rabbit.

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Read an Excerpt



By Claudia Mair Burney

David C. Cook

Copyright © 2008 Claudia Mair Burney
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4347-6570-3



I used to imagine myself as a tiny shoot on a tall brown tree, the gnarled roots of that tree tangled and twisted beneath the black earth. Our roots run so deep, my family can trace its origins back generations. To my great, great, great grandfather who followed the drinking gourd all the way to freedom. To slave ships with lyrical names that belied the horrors taking place in their wide bellies. To the shores of the west coast of Africa where one of our own returned, a single, dark, shining prince, unfettered by imposed forgetfulness, refusing to relinquish his name.

We are a tree with roots and long-limbed branches reaching skyward—a tree with tiny green shoots like me, emerging from something solid and substantial. When we are in season, we scent the air with our bright, fragrant blossoms.

But this Sunday morning I feel alienated from the dignity and hardiness of my ancestors. I don't feel like a Psalm 1:3 sistah—a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth her fruit in her season. Her leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever she doeth shall prosper.

And that was just the King James Version. Don't make me pull out my Amplified Bible and quote that Scripture three times fast.

Sometimes I long for that old-time religion that's good enough for me. No, I take that back—I long for it all the time now.

I scan the sanctuary. I need God to speak to me today. For real. That's one reason I'm sitting in the third row. Besides being Daddy's "amen" corner (the reason I sit here most Sundays), the first three rows make up what we call Prophet's Row on the sly. In this esteemed section, you're more likely to get "a Word" from God. I've received them on several occasions; I was told three different times that the Lord had a husband for me, and one prophet went so far as to say that he'd be a godly man with a pastoral call. I stopped sitting there for six months after that.

Once, a prophetess visited us at Light of Life Christian Center and said God told her to give a woman in our congregation the silver fox coat right off her back. I know the recipient: Ms. Pamela Darden, a squat, obese woman with a widow's mite, a bad wig, and three hefty daughters. Not one of the Darden women can keep a man, even if they shackle him to their bedposts, and it has nothing to do with their weight. They possess an air of quiet desperation, only it refuses to stay quiet and they end up making a big stink of their manlessness at every opportunity that arises.

The Darden women don't have much, and Ms. Pamela, the breadwinner, still takes care of her grown daughters while they "wait on the Lord." But Ms. Pamela remains faithful. She tithes and gives offerings far above her means, grasping for the promised but ever-eluding hundred-fold return on her investment. She's like a compulsive gambler tugging on the sleeve of a one-armed bandit like it was God's own. Just one more silver fox coat. Or maybe a house. Or maybe help my girls get a job, God. Send me a Word, and money, money, money. Puh-leese, Lawd.

I'm feeling you today, Ms. Pamela, every desperate Puh-leese, Lawd, puh-leese, Lawd, puh-leeeeeeese! I actually admire your crazy desperation. It takes courage to be that honest with God. That needy. My parents groomed me to not need anything.

Trade ya.

And Ms. Pamela, I've been watching you. I know you got behind in your car note, scrambling to pay all those online dating service bills your girls stuck you with when they believed more in Match.com and eHarmony than their mama's hard work. I know if you thought somebody needed it, you'd give them the silver fox right off your back. I know you've lived a hard life, and you've had more than your share of boyfriends after your husband left you, and you're still a little twisted from it. You still love rather freely, only now you love for Christ alone. It's how you love for Him that's so extravagant. You show up for whoever needs Him, with whatever you can give. That widow's mite of yours goes farther than the fattest wallets of some of our wealthiest members, including Daddy. You love Jesus like you don't have a bit of sense.

God bless you, Ms. Pamela Darden. God help you in this place.

Service hasn't started yet, so I step away from my chair over to the second row where Ms. Pamela and her daughters sit now. They don't sit in the third row anymore, upgrading, probably, to sit closer to "the anointing." I hope that works out for them. I tap Ms. Pamela on the shoulder. Fortunately, she's at the end of the row so I don't have to step over her daughters, Tessa, Vernice, and Noelle.

I reach out to give her a hug. For all the hard edges of her life, her face, at least in church, is only softness and light. She takes me in with her warm brown eyes and draws me into cinnamon-colored big mama arms. Gives me an embrace scented with baby powder and rose water. There is a bit of hope for me to hold on to in that squeeze.

There's this facade I'm forced to endure, that everybody loves The Bishop's daughter, whether they do or not. And then there is Ms. Pamela, who actually loves me.

"How you doin', Miss Zora?"

"I'm good, Ms. Pamela."

God will forgive me for that lie if He forgives all the liars here who claim they have faith, healing, and prosperity when they're riddled with doubt, sick, and broke day after day. At least I hope He will.

"How are you this morning?" I ask her with sincerity, not trying to gauge whether or not she's outconfessing, -believing, and -receiving me.

She clears her throat, the resulting rumble a frightening death rattle that forces my hand to my own throat. "Girl, I'm healed in the name of Jesus," she says.

Which means she's sick. She wheezes instead of breathes, follows it with a raspy cough that sounds as if her lungs are about to come out of her throat.

"Are you okay, Ms. Pamela?"

A breathy, "I'm healed by the stripes of Jesus."

She can barely get the name of Jesus out before she's seized by a coughing fit.

"Have you seen a doctor?"

"I have faith." Another coughing fit.

I think she's going to have an asthma attack with that faith.

She takes my hand and squeezes it. "Just touch and agree with me in prayer, baby."

She releases my hand. I've touched her, but I don't agree. I'm about to tell her that I will take her to the hospital. I'll take her right now, but then she smiles at me.

"Worship is about to start. You better go take your seat. Remember what happened to me in that seat? Don't want to miss your blessing."

Worship? We're not about to worship. We're about to start singing the Songs of Faith that our worship leader must have seen on a late night TV infomercial after he got tired of watching reruns of The X-Files.

I shuffle back to my seat, praying diligently for Ms. Pamela's healing. I pray that somehow I can forget the craziness of the conversation we just had. She's going to die of pneumonia. What is she doing? What am I?

I want to fly away from here, and I'll put her on my back and fly her out with me.

One of these mornings bright and fair
I want to cross over to see my Lord.
Going to take my wings and fly the air.
I want to cross over to see my Lord.

Now that's a real song of faith.

Don't you go singing Negro spirituals, Zora. Don't you do that during the ridiculous Songs of Faith.

We are fifteen hundred strong this morning, and that's just the first service, an ocean of people standing in front of their chairs—not pews. It looks like a conference hall in here, with a cross. We don't do church. We are a Christian Center, and I'd like to know who thought of that. I mean, once upon a time, the black church really was a center of life, civil and social justice, and community change, along with worship. But that sure isn't what's going on here.

We worship—a generous description—in decidedly uninspired spaces, complete with every amenity, including a coffee bar and a bookstore and gift shop, which sells a multitude of booklets with titles like "Victory in the Tongue," "Confess Your Way to Health," and "God Prosper Me." A concession stand even sells overpriced junk food, just like a conference hall!

I remember visiting my grandfather's church—a real church—as a little girl and holding a hymnbook that I was too young to read. I remember hearing the old folks singing songs they didn't have to look at the pages to know.

But the songs I'm hearing now aren't my songs of faith. These songs make my eyes roll back to the whites, and I can't believe we've actually adopted the unforgettable ditties—now flashing before me in PowerPoint letters as big as my head—for worship.

At least we have a bangin' choir that responds with great swelling voices to whatever our Kirk-Franklin-wannabe music director yells at them: Come on! Come on! Nah! Ha! Uh, uh, here we go nah!

Should I even complain? Aren't these songs musical reminders, as if we need it, that God wants us to prosper and be in good health, even as our souls prosper?

Isn't that what God wants?

Oh, for a rousing chorus of "Go Down, Moses."

Let my people go.

We need a Moses in the house, all right, instead of these forked-tongue prophets of prosperity, their gold-weighted backs permanently curved toward offering baskets, reeking of new money and the ache of unrelenting hunger. It always strikes me as odd how these self-appointed messengers of God always pronounce blessings on us, mostly material ones. Not one of them has said, "Hey, deacon, you need to stop sleeping with the secretary." Nobody tells the youth group that God has a problem with the abortions half the girls use as birth control.

Now mind you, Light of Life Christian Center wholeheartedly condemns these unfortunate lifestyle choices, as LLCC's PR materials clearly state. But people have a way of being human. And humans have a way of sinning. Besides, who around here has time to teach anyone about living holy when we're all chasing abundance and a life of no lack, especially when the evidence of our blessedness is stuff?

And we have stuff. Lots of stuff. And we have prophets with promises of new cars and houses we'll build from the ground up. Our dirty deeds remain hidden, obscured by all the glorious things we've amassed.

I wish just one of the songs on the screen inspired the kind of awe that would make adulterous deacons and aborting teenagers fall right on their faces. I want to fall on my face too, not so much because I'm a sinner, and I am—though we aren't allowed to call ourselves sinners. We even changed the words to "Amazing Grace" and made ourselves "someone" instead of "wretches." I almost fainted when I found out the real lyrics said wretch. No, I want to fall down before God because it has to be amazing to love and revere Him that way.

Holy, holy, holy. Lord, God almighty. That's how they do it in heaven.

We aren't a fall-on-your-face church, though if the choir is doin' its thing we can shout the paint off the walls. We don't have to fall down though. That isn't necessary. We don't even have to get our expensive clothes soiled by getting slain in the Spirit anymore. We are little gods. We confess not our sins, but promises, and we shall have whatsoever we say.

Jesus' word to the church—not the Christian Center—in Laodicea in the book of Revelation?

Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.

But I am rich, Jesus. My parents are crazy paid. I have everything I need, want, desire, and more. I drive a Lexus. I have the perfect, Denzel Washington look-alike boyfriend. My Kate Spade handbag cost more than my salary pays in a week—the salary I earn at my daddy's church. I'm a Black American Princess, black Ivy League educated, who wants for nothing except everything Jesus is talking about in these verses.

"I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see."

That's not the kind of thing I tend to buy when I go shopping, Lord. I don't know where to buy gold tried in the fire. Can you purchase white raiment with a platinum Visa? Is that eyesalve available at Nordstrom?

"As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent."

Did you just say, "Repent"? Like John the Baptist?

Sorry, Lord. We never get that kind of prophecy around here. The people won't give a good love offering for "a Word" like that. Repent implies we are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked, and that does not jibe with our statement of Faith, with a capital F.

Oh, God. I can't stand another moment in this pseudosanctuary country club. I need to go to a hospital for the spiritually ill.

My bad. We aren't allowed to be ill at LLCC. Sickness is evidence that you don't have enough faith. Isn't that right, Ms. Pamela? Keep confessing until you drop dead.

What's gonna happen to you, Ms. Pamela? What are we going to do? I've got to help us.

The singing finally stops. Daddy tells us to hold up our Bibles. We do this every Sunday. I repeat the words I know so well, Bible held high above my head.

"This is my Bible. I can have what it says I can have. I can be what it says I can be."

I can have what it says I can have.

Gold tried in the fire. White raiment.

I can be what it says I can be.

"As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten."

I can be rebuked. I can be chastened.

Daddy starts in on Genesis 1:28. Blessings. Fruitfulness. Multiplying. But I keep hearing Jesus talking about wretchedness, misery, and blindness.

I've gotta get out of here.

I stand up and step away from the chairs and Prophet's Row, and walk right down the center of the aisle, Daddy's voice fading from my hearing. I can sense the Plexiglas podium growing smaller and smaller behind me, as do all his ideas about taking dominion over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Can he discern, with all that divine revelation he claims to have, that my heart has splintered into a thousand pieces?

In the April-sweetened air, I let myself hurt for the Laodicians I've just walked out on, and for the Laodician I've let myself become. I reach my black Lexus without comfort, praying for God to send Ms. Pamela a Word from Him, and God, please, please, please, let it be, "Go outside so Zora can take you to the emergency room."

Please, God. That ain't much to ask for.


An old rugged cross made of maple wood that my great, great grandfather carved is the focal point of our altar at True Believer Gospel Tabernacle, and now my dad stands in front of it at the pulpit, red faced and earnest, like his father before him, and his father before him, and his father before him. This is the legacy of the Parker men.

Blah, blah, blah.

The cross is about the coolest thing we've got going. Everything goes downhill from there.

From the synthetic blood-red carpet—I don't have to tell you whose blood the color is supposed to represent—to the crushed-velvet cushioned pews—a really bad idea, might I add—to the corny stained-glass windows done by the biggest drunken hack in town. I mean, if you gotta do stained glass, the least you could do is get a real artist to do it. Trite stained glass is just wrong. Visually, we're a mess.

And don't get me started on the message.

I know the sermon Dad is preaching so well I could give it myself, and have given it, in fact. Nobody noticed when I repeated it, either. It sounds like every other sermon he'll preach—the same phrasing, same inflection, same modulation. Truth be told, he's already recycled this exact sermon three or four times this year, and it's only April. I don't think the tree huggers had that in mind when they admonished us to reuse, but it seems to work for Dad. For us.

I look behind me, my gaze roaming around the congregation. The people look pleased as punch. I wish somebody—anybody—would shoot me in the head. The thought of my blood and brain matter flying in my dad's red face holds my interest more than his sermon.

Man, I have to stop watching all those forensic shows, but they make for great story possibilities—nothing like violent death to heat up the battle between good and evil. I always think in story. Not that anybody ever encouraged that. My parents almost burned me at the stake when I suggested the Bible is literature. I fancy myself a novelist, though God knows I'm more blocked than a nursing home population without prunes. But what I'm not writing interests me more than Dad's sermon. And it looks like, based on the earnest faces around me, our members are wolfing down his every word like starving dogs begging at the master's table.

I'm gonna blow. Big projectile vomiting, which I hope lands on my dad. Or maybe on the hackneyed, stained-glass scene of the anemic-looking good shepherd.


Excerpted from ZORA AND NICKY by Claudia Mair Burney. Copyright © 2008 Claudia Mair Burney. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


A Note from the Publisher,
Discussion Questions,
A Conversation with Claudia Mair Burney,
What's Next for Mair,

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 26 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 26 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2012


    This was a really good story. The characters and plot were developed and believeable. Not only was the black/white race thing accurrate but also the way parenrs place their expectations on a child and the damage and weight it does to them is dead on. Zora and Nicky were two young adults who fell in love on the way to doing what their parents wanted. Good read!


    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2008

    Hard to put down

    This was one of the more honest looks at the issue of race and religion in America. She doesn't hold back her feelings and ideas on this matter. In the mist of the hot topics expressed in this novel. It is also a very passionate love story between to people brought together by God. I highly recommend this book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 27, 2011

    I Love this book

    this book is really good i couldn't put it down even if i wanted to. i recommend this book to EVERYONE. anyone who thinks they will never read tat PERFECT book. here it is. its a love story that you wouldn't see coming.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2015

    Pokemon girl

    Walks in asking for a battle with him. She shows him her gym badges and champion medals from three regions.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2014

    Sam's secret base

    Theres a pokeball table 4 pokeball chairs on a pokeball mat on the wall is a picture of yeatel on a thunder mat are a pichu doll a pichachu doll a richu doll a zekorom doll in the middle is a thunder cousion on a fireblast mat there are fireblast coushions

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2013

    You Won't Regret Reading It!

    This book is about challenges and trying to overcome them, about love and loss, perfection and imperfection, duty and being true to yourself. It will make you laugh, cringe, high-five (but no-one's in the room), root for a good ending, and definatly cry. You will remember this book...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2013

    A very good book.

    A very good book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2013


    This was an amazing book! It showed how racism can effect anyone and how so many people let it get in the way. It explores how one mam overcomes lust and how one woman overcomes her pride. This is a really awesome book and I recomend it for anyone:) A must read!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2013

    Is it possible to not be racist?

    Excellent characters. Romeo/Juliet-ish. Explores racism and religion. Very interesting read. Would be great for a book club.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2013

    This book is so raw that it sears the soul!

    From the very first page, you're pulled into an amazing story of two people who are desperately seeking a true relationship with the Lord. The way the author reveals their deepest sins to the reader by making them face them is like nothing I've ever read before. I told my sister after just reading the first chapter, "This isn't good fiction... It's good preaching!" This book is truly a MUST READ!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2013


    This book was such a blessing to me. And I don't "do" Christian books. I don't "do" trendy black novelists either. So this novel sure showed me. My parched soul soaked up all it had to give and wanted to share it with others. It was beautifully raw and amazingly heartfelt. I can't recommend it enough. Please, give it a try, even if it's outside your comfort zone of what you usually read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2012

    Highly Recommended if you love alot of romance :)

    this book was amazing i really enjoy it i kept flipping pages and more pages i could not put this book down what so ever. This book got me smiling laughing and got me all romance and crying as well. I belive that people will have a good time reading this book its worth reading turely. Claudia Burney is a great author ;))

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2012


    Great story, but would have rather a different ending.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2010

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    Posted October 26, 2008

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