(Reviewed by JD Jung)
“The poet is not a New Person…He doesn’t have mud-toned dreadlocks or octoroon gray eyes or butterscotch skin. …He has the body, the skin, the face that cabdrivers pretend not to see, that jewelers in midtown refuse to buzz inside. His body is the very reason they got those buzzers installed in the first place.
In contrast, Maria is a twenty-seven year old “New Person” and is engaged to marry Khalil (also a New Person) who she met at Stanford. He now is a successful entrepreneur, and they live together in Brooklyn. They seem like the perfect couple. and he absolutely adores her. But from Maria’s perspective, something is missing. This leads to a strange infatuation with a poet who she hardly knows, and Maria becomes totally obsessed with him.
Maria was adopted by a single woman and discovered that when she was ten months old her mother had to accept that she was a “one-dropper, that peculiarly American creation, white in all outward appearances but black for generations on paper.” This may be a major reason that almost everything she does is affected by her feelings regarding her racial identity. This includes her dissertation about the music of the Peoples Temple (Jonestown), exploring how the cult lasted as long as it did.
New People is a riveting novel that is both poignant and humorous. Author Danzy Senna is able to delicately balance the two to create an enjoyable read. She takes us between Maria’s past and present and shows us how her choices have been affected by her feelings on race. As you read, you will have questions about the story. Be patient; they will be answered.
I can’t even pretend to understand her conflicting feelings on identity and race, since that has not been a part of my life experience. What I can say is that I couldn’t put the book down and it did give me some exposure to an experience that I was unaware of. Yes, some of it may make you feel uncomfortable, but that is a good thing.
New People is an enjoyable “must read” that will make you think long after you finish the book.