Growing up in an affluent suburb of New York City, sixteen-year-old Nevaeh Levitz never thought much about her biracial roots. When her Black mom and Jewish dad split up, she relocates to her mom's family home in Harlem and is forced to confront her identity for the first time.
Nevaeh wants to get to know her extended family, but because she inadvertently passes as white, her cousin thinks she's too privileged, pampered, and selfish to relate to the injustices African Americans face on a daily basis. In the meantime, Nevaeh's dad decides that she should have a belated bat mitzvah instead of a sweet sixteen, which guarantees social humiliation at her posh private school. But rather than take a stand, Nevaeh does what she's always done when life gets complicated: she stays silent.
Only when Nevaeh stumbles upon a secret from her mom's past, finds herself falling in love, and sees firsthand the prejudice her family faces that she begins to realize she has her own voice. And choices. Will she continue to let circumstances dictate her path? Or will she decide once for all who and where she is meant to be?
"Absolutely outstanding!" --Nic Stone, New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin
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I have lived trapped in that moment ever since.
In the dreaded ambiguity
That follows me everywhere I go.
In this grimy mirror,
and bitter fluorescent glow.
The electric hiss, like bees caught in a plastic casing, sends shock waves from the sterile lightbulbs in the bathroom of Mount Olivene Baptist Church. The sound travels over the damp off-white tiles, back to my reflection in a mirror so streaked and blurred with soap scum my skin almost blends into the walls behind me. If it weren’t for the burst of brown freckles that swarm around my nose and across my cheekbones, I’d be the way I am most of the time: invisible--swallowed up whole by the imaginary bugs and the all-encompassing beige.
Cloudy Pepto-Bismol-pink gel squirts onto me like projectile vomit from the rusted soap dispenser and sends a foamy streak across my light yellow shirt. I go to grab a handful of waxy paper towels piled up on the side of the sink and bump my phone and church program, which I’ve covered with poetry scribbles, sending them to the ground.
My shout echoes through the empty space and I stand with my eyes pinched shut, ready for Jesus Christ to float into the ladies’ room and smite me for using foul language in his house. But no one comes. The organ upstairs begins to play, accompanied by the choir. They drag these hymns out for like, twenty minutes. Four sentences that repeat over and over and over, gaining in volume and excitement and conviction with each go-around.
Take me to the water
Take me to the water
Take me to the water
There to be baptized
This is the song before closing remarks. I need to get moving before the Gray Lady Gang rushes in here for their weekly gossip session, which, for the record, is way scarier than the reincarnation of the lord and savior.
Every Sunday, the posse of eighty- to one-hundred-year-old ladies shows up in matching skirt suits and refined wigs, ready to talk shit and bully folks in the name of Christ. The whole congregation knows that they kick out anyone who dares use the bathroom during their regularly scheduled meeting with a swat of a cane and a glare so rigid that their victim is liable to cross over right here in the bathroom.
“Did you see what she had the nerve to wear today, Eveline? She’s a two-bit hussy, if you ask me. Stuffed into that getup like a breakfast sausage . . .”
Their raspy voices rush under the bathroom door with the breeze from the fans in the hallway. I’m too late.
Currently, the talk of the town is Miss Clarisse, a woman in her sixties who owns a clothing boutique that specializes in form-fitting, outlandish attire best reserved for ’90s Lil’ Kim videos. She is back on the prowl for love after her fling with Pastor Davis ended abruptly a few weeks ago--the Grays threatened to circulate a petition for his retirement, deeming it inappropriate for a community leader to be seen with her in public. Miss Clarisse isn’t exactly helping her case, showing up to church every Sunday in outfits so tight it’s a miracle when she doesn’t pop right out of them.
Their murmurs move closer, so eager to dive into the juicy updates that they can’t even wait to get inside the room. The pounding from their thick heels against the floor counts down to our impending faceoff. I have to save myself.
I burst through the door just before they arrive and walk past them without making eye contact as I rush to the stairs.
“Humph!” grunts the oldest and roughest GLG member, Miss Eveline. Her straight, chin-length black wig sways ever so slightly under a wide-brimmed lavender hat adorned with netting and an embroidered silver rose.
“They can’t be satisfied takin’ our houses, now these white folks got to come up here into our churches too?” Oretha, a light-skinned woman who is the tallest and spriteliest in the bunch, asks.
Miss Eveline smacks Oretha’s hand with a guttural “Shush!”
“That there is Nevaeh, Pastor Paire’s granddaughter,” Miss Eveline says. “The Jewish one,” I hear, before the bathroom door closes behind them with a sharp click.