In 1974, when Ann Ahern begins her junior year of high school, South Boston is in crisis -- Catholic mothers are blockading buses to keep Black children from the public schools, and teenagers are raising havoc in the streets. Ann, an outsider in her own Irish-American community, is infatuated with her beautiful French teacher, Mademoiselle Eugénie, who hails from Paris but is of African descent. Spurred by her adoration for Eugénie, Ann embarks on a journey that leads her beyond South Boston, through the fringes of the Black Power movement, toward love, and ultimately to the truth about herself.
In this ambitious and arresting novel, Stephanie Grant's searing prose, powerful storytelling, and richly drawn characters bring tumultuous moment in American history into perfect focus.
Edgy and erotic, Grant's second novel (after The Passion of Alice) runs a complex story of urban racial conflict through a YA-feeling filter. The year is 1974, and 16-year-old Ann Ahern has a crush on her French teacher, the Senegalese Mademoiselle Eugenie. It is not the gender of her crush that troubles Ann she has long known she likes girls but rather the color of Mademoiselle's skin. The backdrop of Ann's adolescence is the desegregation of south Boston public schools, and the sight of black faces in her school fills her with equal parts resentment and lust; her response to this confusion takes the form of a light pyromania, and as racial strife worsens, it is clear that Ann has wandered into a conflict between the Black Panthers and several racist groups. When a gang of white kids torch Mademoiselle Eugenie's car, Ann embarks on an adventure that awakens her conscience and sexual identity. Grant is most successful in depicting Ann's internal coming-of-age, but the world outside Ann's head is frequently elusive, and her final acting out may crush any sympathy readers feel toward her.