At the age of eighteen, Minette Swift, an African American student from D.C. heads to Schuyler College in Pennsylvania. At the age of nineteen Minette is mysteriously killed in a fire on campus. It is now 1986 in the story and her college roommate Genna Hewett-Meade is consumed by the tragedy and the secrets associated with Minette's brutal death. The daughter of a minister and a merit scholar Minette was standoffish and prickly during her freshman year. Her roommate Genna was raised in an elite family, her father Max being a civil rights attorney and her ancestors founders of the college. Max is thrilled that his daughter has an African American roommate and encourages his daughter to develop a friendship with Minette. Although Genna tries to reach out to Minette, Minette remains aloof and unfriendly. When a series of racial incidents begin to Minette, life at Schuyler becomes steeped in hostility and accusations of racism. When Minette's dorm window is broken, her school books are destroyed and racial epithets are left for Minette, Minette retreats even further into her solitary world.
Things get out of control when the nigger is written on Minette's dorm room door. Although Genna knows that Minette wrote the racial slur herself, she can't bring herself to turn her roommate in. Unable to bear the racism and ostracism from the Schuyler students, Minette moves out of the door to live on her own, devastating Genna, who feels as if she failed Minette. As Minette's life spirals out of control, culminating in her untimely death, Genna is forced to examine the roommate she barely knew, the racist incidents and her mysterious death. Although Joyce Carol Oates is a masterful storyteller, this book doesn't live up to its premise. The characters are stilted and lifeless; stereotypes abound in this portrayal of black and white.
This report prepared by Sandra Calhoune