One of NPR's Best Books of the Year
"Perhaps nothing can feel more elusive than determining your own identity, but Chris L. Terry does a magnificent job of dissecting all the ways in which identity both is and isn't a construct in his brilliant new book, Black Card . . . Terry employs a fierce humor throughout the narrative, but don't mistake wit for detachment—this book is deeply moving, a wise meditation on race, authenticity, and belonging." —Kristin Iversen, Nylon
"Hilariously searing . . . As Terry so cleverly and poignantly points out, the narrator's split personality embodies the soul of America itself. And with deadpan comic timing, sensitive insight, and taut, terse prose, Terry plunges the reader into his turmoil. Like nature, racial identity in America abhors a vacuum. If you don't fill in your own identity, as Black Card illustrates, someone else will. Striking a superb balance between levity and heaviness, Terry crafts an enormously fun read about a decidedly less than fun topic." —Jason Heller, NPR
"Author Chris L. Terry deserves credit for skillfully juggling pathos, humor, and anger in a novel that captures the pigeonholing experienced by biracial people trying to fit into a society that looks for either/or categorization . . . The story is powerful and entertaining, and Leon Nixon smoothly delivers Terry’s sly humor, perfectly capturing the roiling emotions of a young man searching for his truest self." —Rochelle M. O’Gorman, The Christian Science Monitor
"Black Card is a bold and affecting novel—funny, infuriating and at times profound. Terry is a new talent who's managed to examine race in America like few writers before him. This fresh and innovative novel explores both whiteness and blackness in contemporary America." —Scott Neuffer, Shelf Awareness (starred review)
"Black Card holds many modes and many moods in its packed and tactile narrative. Chris L. Terry has managed to capture, all at once, the complications of being black, being young, and being in love. This is a detailed ride about finding one's way to the inside, and finding that the inside isn't all you thought it would be. This book is a mirror, inside of which I saw so many selves." —Hanif Abdurraqib, author of They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us and Go Ahead in the Rain
"Chris L. Terry is so damn good at peeling back all the tricky layers of race and identity and belonging, and grappling with all the icky stuff of being young and trying to figure out how to be. I'm a '90s kid who spent my afternoons earnestly taping obscure rock songs off college radio in suburban Chicagoland, so Black Card feels like it was written explicitly for me. It's a hilarious and honest examination of race and punk authenticity that's probably gonna feel like it was written for you, too." —Samantha Irby, author of We Are Never Meeting in Real Life
"Black Card is an illuminating portrait of a young man who is confronted by a world that (quite erroneously) feels his blackness and his punkness should be conflicting interests . . . Black Card serves as a document proving [black punks are] not alone in their tastes, in their struggles to connect with others, in their beautiful identities." —Douglas Martin, Passion of the Weiss
"Race is false. Race is real. Chris L. Terry allows these two conflicting truths to dance and spar on the pages of his wickedly funny and daringly smart new novel. Black Card is a wonderful and welcome addition to the growing canon of mixed–race literature." —Danzy Senna, author of Caucasia and New People
"With Black Card, Chris L. Terry has written a sly, funny, melancholy take on race and performing identity in America. A love letter to the DIY scene of the 1990s as well as a portrait of an artist as a young, confused man, this novel is a truly unique exploration of what it takes to build a sense of self in a world dictated by the unbending rules of race and capitalism."—Kaitlyn Greenidge, author of We Love You, Charlie Freeman
"Terry crafts a novel we haven't quite seen before: the rare book about racial identity that eschews heaviness without ever feeling lightweight. Black Card is lively, nuanced, and always a step ahead of the reader. This is a must–read book about navigating life as a biracial person in a nation uncomfortable with any identity that is not white.” —Maurice Carlos Ruffin, author of We Cast a Shadow
Terry’s darkly humorous coming-of-age novel (after Zero Fade) explores the nuances and challenges of being a young black man in America. A punk rock bassist with a white mother and black father living in Richmond, Va., the unnamed narrator struggles with feeling “black enough.” “Being mistaken for white erases half of me,” he muses, “and happens so often that I think I’ve failed at blackness.” In a desperate attempt to finally earn his Black Card—an actual card—he indulges in misconceived stereotypes of blackness. He tries to “speak more black” and changes up his style of dress. He earns his card but has it revoked by his guide/mentor Lucius when he fails to speak up during a racist incident. Determined to earn back his card, he performs rap songs at a white karaoke bar and musters up the courage to ask out his black coworker, Mona. When Mona is assaulted in her apartment, he becomes a suspect and is finally forced to face his racial identity. “The minute Mona told the cops about me, she’d given me something. She’d made it so I’d never, ever doubt that I was black.” This memorable, deeply insightful work has echoes of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Terry’s provocative and timely novel challenges readers to confront the racial stereotypes and injustices in America. (Aug.)
A satire of American race relations and the performance of identity.
Terry (Zero Fade, 2013) tells the story of a nameless punk musician struggling with his own racial identity. After growing up in the mostly white suburbs of Washington, D.C., with his white mom and black father, the narrator moves with his family to a black community in Richmond, Virginia. The narrator's love of skateboarding, rock music, and his white mother make him feel like an outsider among black people. "I felt excluded from blackness," he recalls, "and like it was my fault that I couldn't fix it." His insecurities manifest in Lucius, a psychic projection of his self-consciousness that takes the form of a street-wise black man who takes it upon himself to teach our narrator how to be black. He gives the narrator his Black Card, which "entitles the brotha or sista who bears it to all black privileges, including but not limited to: Use of the n-word...and, most important, a healthy skepticism of white folks." It's proof that the narrator is really black—but it requires that the holder's authenticity be evaluated periodically. When a white friend's dad uses the n-word and the narrator says nothing in response, Lucius confiscates his Black Card for dereliction of duty. Our punk performs a series of stunts—like performing Run DMC to a roomful of white country music fans who are a bit too enthusiastic—to reclaim his blackness. Meanwhile, he develops a crush on his black co-worker Mona, with whom he can have less rigid conversations about blackness than those he has with Lucius. "There isn't one way to be black," she advises our narrator. But when he becomes implicated in a sexual assault, the narrator's freedom is threatened, and he confronts what it really means to be black in America. This is a funny novel with sharp insights into the constructed nature of racial identity. However, the plot is thin, the characters largely uninteresting, and the prose workmanlike. All that's left are the novel's ideas, which Terry repeats so often that they come to seem rather ham-fisted.
This is a funny novel whose insights are unfortunately too one-note to be illuminating.