Sunny's bookshelf
Sunny's bookshelf photo by Judy Solomon

Online book reviews since 2011, the very best in reviewing – connecting good readers with equally good writers

Mostly White if You Don’t Look More Closely

Sign up to receive our latest reviews by email

Mostly White


I continue to be impressed by the quality of the books published by Torrey House Press. Each one I read seems better than the last, and Alison Hart’s Mostly White is no exception. In fact, I think it even exceeds Torrey House’s very high standards. That said, reading Mostly White turns out to be an excruciating reading experience. The content is almost unbearably painful, but I think the pain is worth it. I came away from the novel with a far better understanding of the sufferings of mixed-race American men and women — not a happy subject, but one well-worth some in-depth exploration.

Mostly White offers a series of vignettes, excerpted scenes from the lives of four generations of women descended from the bear medicine Passamaquoddy and from two black sisters who are healers, too. Each generation wavers between optimism and despair, between love and violence, between individual possibilities and cultural barriers. Sadly, the vignettes tend to be bleak.

When I drafted this review, I soon realized that my linear mind couldn’t do justice to the way Hart’s imagination sets her characters adrift. Setting their lives down chronologically totally detracts from the ways their very existences float in time and space. For example, Mostly White opens with the brutality of a Catholic Indian away school, where rural Maine Indian children have been dragged from their families and forced to reject their native traditions. Emma and Joe impotently resist, until Emma finally runs away. Wandering alone in the woods, she seeks solace in the company of an itinerant Irish moonshiner who sells illegal spirits, a nice-enough fellow afflicted with the “drinking disease.” The drinking disease curses their offspring, too. The layers of alcohol lead to bad choices, or is it that the bad choices lead to layers of alcohol? Whichever, Mostly White is veiled by spirits, both imagined and real.

Each generation suffers from the ills of their parents. Each generation repeats the ills of their parents, especially when choosing men. And using alcohol to blur their misjudgments. Despite the suffering, however, I found this novel quite moving. First of all, Hart draws sympathetic characters, women whose foibles a reader can forgive. Second, Hart parses conflicts in thoughtful ways, especially emphasizing the thoughtlessness that too often accompanies racism. Much of the racism is overt, to be sure, but sometimes the undercurrents are equally damning. Finally, Hart writes extremely well. As I indicated earlier, this review cannot capture the flow of Mostly White, a novel that relies on unfathomable depths and resonant soundings between characters whose actions echo through time. No reader could love the deeds, but all readers can learn from Mostly White’s provocative nature.  – Ann Ronald

Please support your local Independent Bookstore and your Public Library.

Mostly White is Alison Hart’s debut novel.

Mostly White

Add your thoughts and comments...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share this Review

Related Reviews

Facing The Mountain

Facing The Mountain

    Daniel James Brown’s Facing the Mountain, A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II, is the rich telling of the plight faced

Read More »
The Midnight Library

The Midnight Library

Matt Haig’s novel, The Midnight Library, describes the twenty-seven hours it takes Nora Seed to choose life or death. The Midnight Library, Chapter One begins, “Nineteen

Read More »

The God of  Endings

Jacqueline Hollands’s debut novel, The God of  Endings, reveals the loneliness of the life of an unwilling vampire. Jacqueline Holland’s debut novel, The God of Endings, follows

Read More »

About the Reviewer

Sign up for reviews by email

You’ll get email updates from Bookin’ with Sunny when we add a new review or blog post, and we never share your email with anyone else.

Shopping in-store Fun!

Support your local community’s economic growth by shopping for books at your independent bookstore in person, online at their website, or by phone.