Reviewed by Chris Daniel Loza
By Danzy Senna
240 pp. Riverhead Books.
Hailed as one of this year’s best summer reads by Vogue, Newsday, Harper’s Bazaar, and Glamour among others, New People by Danzy Senna is a thin but heavyweight story about identity, race, and middle-class ennui. The story begins with Maria, a product of biracial parents adopted by a black woman, and her fiancé Khalil with his sister Lisa, products of a mixed marriage too, attending a poetry reading. The poet, who goes unnamed throughout the book, beguiles Maria while she and Khalil are in the middle of all their wedding preparations. Their lives, individually, are just as busy with Maria struggling to finish her dissertation about the Jonestown Massacre and Khalil starting up his dotcom business.
It is the late 90s, fall of 1996 to be precise, way before the dotcom bust. A new race is being defined as the New People—individuals who are blurring the lines between black and white. Maria and Khalil are to be featured, along with three others, in a documentary showcasing people of mixed heritage on the cusp of success. In their case, it is that wedding in Martha’s vineyard and a house in Brooklyn—ordinary dreams to those born into white privilege, but an elusive dream to those of color.
It is this: the sense that her life is being made unconsciously, the path ahead of her sealed, that attracts Maria to the poet, a roguishly handsome black man that awakens in Maria the possibilities of what her life could be. Their singular encounter, without the entourage of common friends, plunges Maria into an intoxicating fantasy that almost upends her life, until a harsh realization hits her and she pulls back. She reminds herself, as she is reminded by everyone around her, that Khalil is a great catch and that she will have a great life ahead with him.
Senna never wraps the book neatly in the end. Instead, the reader is left to construct what happens next. It is not, after all, the story’s purpose to give us a happy ending, but to make the reader think about our identity. What it means to be us, born into a certain background.
It is a story that breezes through plot points, jumping from one timeline to another, peeling the veil off Maria’s history, and in the end leaves you thinking, long after you’ve finished the novel, about the expectations that come with being born into a particular race or color and how, if ever, we transcend them or succumb to them.
I read this novel in three days, stealing time during commute and quick stops at coffee shops. It’s an easy novel to read, with a few darkly comical sequences, done in about 230 pages, but the sentiments linger with a bittersweet aftertaste of what is and what could be.
New People by Danzy Senna will be available soon at Fully Booked. To reserve a copy in advance, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris has written on Wattpad, yellowpads, and notepads. A few of his articles are in the dusty archives of Inquirer’s Youngblood and Philippine Star’s My Favorite Book, while one story got lost among the Kindles on Amazon. He works as a Systems Administrator by day and a recluse at night.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]