Loving Day by Mat Johnson – Book Review

Well, I finally got to check Mat Johnson‘s Loving Day off of my “To Be Read” list!

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Loving Day is funny, serious, light-hearted, deep, uplifting and slightly offensive all at the same time… Basically, I loved it!

It’s a satirical story about Warren Duffy, a biracial man who recently divorced overseas, and has come back home to Philadelphia following his father’s death in order to sell his father’s house — a possibly haunted, possibly condemnable, most definitely flammable, mansion in the ghetto. He’s not home long before finding out he has a “casually racist” teenage daughter named Tal. Despite his outward appearance of a white man, Warren views himself as black and really acknowledges only that side of himself. When Tal (who may have more problems than Warren himself does) comes to stay with him, he somehow manages to get involved in a cult/school filled with teachers and students struggling with the same identity issues.

As an incredibly light-skinned mixed chick who grew up in a very white neighborhood in West Virginia, this book hit home on so many levels! I struggled with race, identity, and where I “belonged” all through my childhood and Loving Day captured a lot of that in Warren and Tal’s journey. This is probably the first book I’ve read that seems to perfectly hit on what it’s like to be bi-racial in America.

As a child, I was in a school system where there were never more than three bi-racial students (including me) all through my elementary, junior, and high school years. The number of black students could be counted on my fingers. I was a bit of an outcast… too white to be accepted by the black kids and too black to ever be accepted by the white ones either. Somehow, the other mixed kids didn’t seem to have it so bad. It was in high school that I realized it’s okay to be mixed, as long as you look black… If you’re skin is so light that most people passing you on the street assume you’re white, the assumption is that you can’t be trusted.

So I already knew I was going to love this novel by the second page, when I read:

I’m not white, but I can feel the eyes of the few people outside on me, people who must think that I am, because I look white, and as such what the hell am I doing here? This disconnect in my racial projection is one of the things I hate. It goes in a subcategory I call “America.” … I hate that because I know I’m black. My mother was black — that counts, no matter how pale and Irish my father was. So I shall not be rebuked. I will not be rejected.

Warren Duffy, at the beginning of Loving Day, was dealing with some of the same emotions I felt as a child.

As the novel goes on you meet some hilarious, truly lovable characters that help him on his journey to come to terms with and define his own identity, instead of allowing others to define it for him. Just when you think you’ve got the supporting cast in this book figured out, you learn something new about them you’re suddenly seeing them differently. (I’m dying to tell you all about them, but I want you to read the book and… well, spoilers! So if you read the book (or have already read it) shoot me a message and let’s talk about One Drop, Roslyn, Spider, Sunita, or Tosha!?!?!)

It’s hard to find a book that deals with such tough, emotional issues as Loving Day does (race, death, surprise parenting, etc.) and manages to have you laughing throughout, but somehow Mat Johnson pulls it off.

As far as ranking goes… I’m torn between a 4 and a 5 so I’m saying 4.5. My hesitation on a straight 5 is because it was hard to read the terms “mulatto” and “Oreo” so many times. I’m aware that’s because of my own past negative experiences and it’s hard for me to see the words in any way other than racist… even when they’re not specifically being used that way. I’ll definitely be reading it again in the future though!