Can a novel about race and class in 1980s Philadelphia be fun?

The description on the Fresh Air podcast makes the novel sound dreary and Good for You, like spinach:

Growing up in West Philadelphia, novelist Asali Solomon felt like an outsider. “The lifestyle I was leading was different from what other people were leading,” Solomon tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “Like, my parents taught us to revere Africa — people at school made fun of Africa.”

The family celebrated Kwanzaa, the kids were discouraged from saying the Pledge of Allegiance, and the family didn’t eat pork. (“The reason for that was never quite explained to me,” Solomon says,”… but it was part of a thing at the time that I think people were taking from black Muslims.”)

Solomon drew on her childhood experience when she created Kenya, the main character in her new novel Disgruntled. Kenya, the daughter of parents who were Afrocentric black-nationalists, excels at her neighborhood school in West Philadelphia — but her success sets her apart. When she’s sent to a mostly-white private school, she worries that she’s not measuring up; she wants kids to see her as the brilliant black girl, “heir to those brave children in the south who’d shined their shoes each morning only to get kicked and spat on in their fight for a good education.”

But the interview makes Solomon — and the novel — seem warm and witty. I’m adding Disgruntled to my Amazon wishlist.

And what the hell, I like spinach.

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