Desert Isle Keeper
You know you have read a good book when, three days after finishing it, your head is still spinning with questions and ideas that the book has raised. In addition to making me really think about issues of color lines (both outside and within the African-American community), Skin Deep makes it pleasant to tackle these serious issues by wrapping them in a fast-paced, warm, suspenseful and romantic story.
Nina Moore has pale skin and blue eyes, but she does not consider herself White. She understands herself to be the daughter of her Black father and a White woman, raised by her father and his Black wife. She doesn’t remember her birth mother, and she considers herself a one hundred percent Black woman. Lately, though, she’s been haunted by nightmares and the creeping suspicion that all may not be as her parents have always told her. In the midst of all this, she discovers that her ex-fiancee has only ever wanted her for the light color of her skin, and the man she is interested in is shying away from involvement with her for the same reason.
Ahmad Jefferson lost his wife and five years of his own and his daughter’s life to an unjust imprisonment. Deeply angry at the machinations of White people he had trusted, he has moved his daughter to Glendale, Arizona, to begin a new life. At the college where he is a student and employee, he meets Nina, an apparently White woman who teaches African-American history and recruits students for the Black Student Union. Despite his attraction to her, and even after he finds out what Nina is all about, he fears involvement with her, for both his own and his daughter’s sake.
The developing romance between Nina and Ahmad is beautifully done, and the issues that threaten to split them up are real, very painful, and have no easy answers. What can Ahmad do when his dark-skinned daughter frets that she is not beautiful like Nina? What can Nina do when Ahmad’s family assumes that she is a White hussy who has no place in Ahmad’s or their lives?
The real power of this book is that despite making you consider these issues, it is never a chore to read. Between the romance and the mystery of Nina’s true origins, I kept turning pages late into the night. Moreover, Cross resists the temptation to make the seeming “bad guys” into two-dimensional unsympathetic characters. Time and again I found myself reluctantly empathizing with characters I had initially been set up to despise. This gave the story a depth that too many books, even books tackling hard racial issues, seem to lack.
Moreover, Cross keeps a skillful rein on the various subplots, bringing them all to a satisfying conclusion. To do that and leave the reader hungry to share the book with others, to discuss the questions it asks, is a real accomplishment.
I would love to see Oprah Winfrey choose this as one of her book club books. Not just because I think that it deserves the sales boost that such a designation always gives a novel. But because Skin Deep raises issues that can and should be discussed by a large, multi-perspective audience. Failing that, this book would make an excellent selection for a local book group.