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Black Girl/White Girl

3.23  ·  Rating details ·  3,348 ratings  ·  368 reviews
In 1975 Genna Hewett-Meade's college roommate died a mysterious, violent death partway through their freshman year. Minette Swift had been assertive, fiercely individualistic, and one of the few black girls at their exclusive, "enlightened" college—and Genna, daughter of a prominent civil defense lawyer, felt duty-bound to protect her at all costs. But fifteen years later, ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published May 29th 2007 by Ecco (first published 2006)
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Average rating 3.23  · 
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 ·  3,348 ratings  ·  368 reviews

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Dec 01, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The title and book description are misleading. The book has very little to do with race relations, and more to do with the white girl's dysfunctional relationship with her politically controversial father and her own feelings of guilt. The characters are not at all likable, or even ones I could relate to or understand. The white girl tries obnoxiously hard to befriend her black roommate, who everyone else--including the other black students--finds intolerable. The white girl's fixation is rather ...more
Rachel Louise Atkin
Read for my American Postmodernism class. This is a novel that attempts to demonstrate and examine the American college experience for a person of colour, yet as a white author Oates is careful not to adopt a false voice on behalf of black college students, but instead writes from the perspective of a white girl sharing a dorm with a black girl. What follows is a juxtaposition of the two, working as both a contrast and bonding for the two characters who are aware of their societal differences, a ...more
Jul 21, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookclub-reads
From the title of this book and the soundbites on the back cover you would assume this is a book about race in 1960s America. And it is, but it is also a book about a lot more. Mostly, to me, it seemed to be a book about white middle class guilt and political correctness.

The story is written as the 'confession' of Genna Meade, a white 18 year old girl from a rich yet extremely dysfunctional family. Genna's parents are aging radical hippies who have rejected their elitist upbringing and inheritan
Jan 03, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008-books
Truth in advertising would require this book to be called White Girl. Ostensibly about two college roommates, one the scion of a white liberal family with a long history of progressive politics and the other the daughter of an African-American minister, it's really about Genna, the white girl of the title, and her relationship w/her radical chic parents and her longing to befriend and be trusted by Minette, the black girl of the title. We see Minette through Genna's eyes, and as even fifteen yea ...more
Nov 11, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: black-white
While I was expecting superior writing from a novelist as celebrated as Oates (this was my first one) and didn't consistently find it, I have to give her credit for tackling an unusual and difficult subject. White Girl's unrequited yearning for friendship with her (Black Girl) roommate rings true for the time and place depicted. It's a little mysterious as to why Oates chose to make Black Girl so strange and troubled. But then White Girl was pretty troubled too, probably par for the course for t ...more
Jan 21, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I was completely misled by the summary of this book in the inside jacket. I really thought " Black Girl/White Girl" was about the mysterious circumstances surrounding the murder of black liberal arts student at predominately white private school and her roommates finally admiting 15 years later that show was involved and/or know who killed her. Boy, was I mistaken. This is probably the lamest book I've read in years. Minnette Swift "The black girl" is one of the most unlikeable characters in lit ...more
Larry Bassett
Apr 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
When I was a 10 years old Cub Scout having a regular meeting at TW’s house, his mother found a piece of cake behind the couch; it seemed important to her to determine who had dropped it there. When no one accepted responsibility she took us aside one by one to be questioned about our possible guilt or our possible knowledge of who was guilty. Later I heard that the criminal was found out, but not how or who. That same year I dropped a quarter behind a couch in my house and couldn’t find it no ma ...more
Aug 15, 2009 rated it liked it
Shy Genna Meade is descended from hippie activists and abolitionist quakers. Self assured Minette Swift is the daughter of a preacher and one of the few Black students at Schuyler College. Can Genna overcome Minette's tough exterior to reach the person underneath she desperately wants to connect to?

I actually put this down when I first bought it, after a few chapters I couldn't seem to get into it. I picked it up 2 years later and sped right through. Joyce Carol Oates prose is absolutely beautif
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Well, I guess it's inevitable that a prolific writer of 50+ novels would write a clunker or two. I've been a big fan of her dour prose for decades now, and not once have I disliked anything she's bestowed upon us.

And then there's the poorly-titled (if not -conceived) "Black Girl White Girl" starts promisingly enough, with our "white girl", a daughter of a wealthy liberal Quaker family (a family with ties to Black rights movements and the Underground Railroad) who goes off to college in the
Sep 09, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I saw some other reviews about how the title and inside jacket were misleading, and I too thought it was about one thing, when it really was about another, but I do not think that should dissuade anyone from reading this strangely suspenseful and mildly uncomfortable book.

I say suspenseful because there is a build up to this tragic death that we have all been waiting for since page 1, as Gemma Meade recalls 15 years later the months leading up to the day that her college roommate Minette Swift
Apr 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Black Girl/White Girl is the first Joyce Carol Oates book I've read. I am not sure why I've steered away from her books but I am glad I picked this one up to read. I was able to relate to the racial tensions on the university campus in this book because the same tensions and protests were part of my university career. Many parts of the book drew me back into my 60s experiences. All in all this was a very good read for me. ...more
Black Girl / White Girl tells the story of Genna Hewett-Mead who is reflecting on a traumatic event in her past. Fifteen years ago, in 1975 while attending an exclusive women’s liberal arts college near Philadelphia, her roommate Minette Swift died a mysterious and violent death. Minette was a scholarship student and one of the few African American women to be let into the college. Genna, a quiet woman of privilege got to witness the effects of racism first hand as the racist harassment escalate ...more
Jess Wisloski
Jun 01, 2007 rated it really liked it
This was good, but apparently not good enough for me to remember too well. I know it was compelling, and had something to do with a self-concious, but proud, young Southern black girl who wound up roommates with a self-hating liberal whitey from Pennsylvania. The black girl's own deliberate extracation of herself from the uppity school's largely white, but even black, female community baffles and intrigues her friend, who guiltily takes pride in having a black friend, and uses it as a token to c ...more
This was a dreadful book with appalling characters. Minette is the 'Black Girl' from the title, a preacher's daughter. She is the rudest, most obnoxious, spiteful bitch that you can imagine and goes out of her way to make everyone despise her. 'White Girl' is her room mate Genna, who tries to be her friend but is constantly rebuffed. Genna is a complete wimp of a doormat who lets Minette walk all over her and you get the impression that she is too scared to admit she hates her in case people thi ...more
Abigail Hillinger
Although this book took quite awhile to get into (169 pages, to be precise), I'm glad I read it. Joyce Carol Oates has written a ridiculous number of books, and I was worried her style would be like the female version of Nicholas Sparks--not quite chick-litty or romance, but just...I don't know, 'cheap'. She's definitely not.

There are several techniques she uses that other writers might want to try--her different formations for flashbacks, her repetition of certain phrases/thoughts, the clues of
Feb 25, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Oates does such a good job at exploring anxiety and neurosis . I could feel every ounce of the tension and social awkwardness between Genna and Minette, and I really got inside their crazy heads. This was a great snapshot of a particular moment in time as well as a fascinating character study.

I wasn't crazy about the subplot with Genna's father (it was one of those things that either needed more development or to just be dropped completely) but that's a minor nitpick.
Leah Rachel von Essen
Jan 04, 2016 rated it did not like it
Joyce Carol Oates’s Black Girl / White Girl was immensely disappointing. Oates’s prose wasn’t as effortless as in her other works, but even if it was, it wouldn’t have been enough to save this novel, which fails to deliver what it promises. To be honest, I feel cheated: this novel made me angry, and not in the way that I think Oates meant it to.

The blurb on the back of this book cites the focus as “black girl” Minette Swift’s tragic death, although the main character and narrator is Genna Hewett
Sep 30, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Joyce Carol Oates is a very smart author. She knows a lot about location, a lot about history, and a lot about language. However, as a reader, I often find myself feeling very aware of these things as I read her books: that she, as the author, is going to tell me about this location or this event in history or that now, she is going to use this particularly literary device to tell this section of her story. Instead of enhancing her stories, it often fragments them for me, the reader.
In Black Gir
Jul 14, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone with insomnia..
gosh, i really disliked this book.. it was boring, the title was misleading, the characters totally unlikable..

i may be somewhat dense, but i just did not get what this book was about? a troubled black girl on a merit scholarship to a private northeast college in the mid 70s? or her equally troubled white roommate struggling with her wacky childhood growing up as the daughter of a radical lawyer?

i feel robbed of my time. the title was misleading- and the book itself is misleading-very early in
Sep 13, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition

This was horrible. I can't believe a writer as talented and respected as Joyce Carol Oates would write such pointless drivel. Every single character is unlikable to the point that I hoped they all died, the plot is all over the place and the narrator is a dumbass. The title and jacket summary are misleading, too: The book isn't about race relations, a mysterious death or even the two girls. Hell, I flipped through the final pages so quickly just be don
Ryan Heaven
After having reading Oates' 'Black Water' I longed to read more of her work - and came to reading this one. Oates' characterisation is impeccable here and her control of plot and narrative is enviable. This book really does make you look into yourself and will lead you to find things that maybe you didn't want to notice. Although the political sections of the book dragged slightly, the mysterious characters of Genna and Minette kept me hooked. I'll most definitely be reading more of Oates' work ...more
part of me: this is a great read about privilege and guilt. set in Pennsylvania at a College in the 70s, which frankly is refreshing.

another part of me: um, this story some chick's dad issues is not what i signed up for.

three stars.
Geoff Young
Sep 20, 2016 rated it did not like it
The first 53 pages were aggressively tedious. The remaining 219 won't be read by me. ...more
Feb 12, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am not sure what this book is really about, and we didn't get off on the right foot. I felt detached and quite indifferent for the first half, waiting for something to catch my imagination. Then it picked up and I finished it in one evening.

I think i had this problem because I expected the book to be about race when in reality it is fundamentally about a young womans relationships to the world - one woman in particular, but also her family. As such it is very interesting and caught my imagina
Jim Leckband
Apr 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 19, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the searing style of Joyce Carol Oates, we come to know the characters of this tale of the seventies: a story of black and white differences, racial discrimination, and the gray areas of morality.

Two girls from very different backgrounds share a room in the dorm at Schuyler College near Philadelphia: A black minister's daughter from Washington, D. C., and the daughter of Maximilian Meade, wealthy and privileged, yet representing the civil rights of anti-war protestors and terrorists; he is al
Apr 28, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: one who wants to read something different
Disclaimer: do not read this book in search of a happy ending. You won't find it here. I promise.

Generva Meade, daughter of radical activist lawyer Maximillian Meade and ex-flower child Veronica Hewett-Meade, is in her freshman year at Schuyler College, some old Quaker school founded by her great grandfather and known for promoting racial integration. She seeks friendship with her roomate Minette Swift, a Merit scholar student, daughter of Revered Virgil Swift.

Generva tries from the start to ear
Sep 11, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone trying to give Lynn Truss a stroke
I needed to find out for myself how bad Joyce Carol Oates is. Let me begin by explaining that I only bought this book out of desperation in an airport bookstore, since it seemed at least a step more towards that-which-one-calls "literature" than everything else there. And, yes, I would say it's an attempt at literature-- but how badly written! From the beginning, it's full of flat characterization, something that I believe Oates thinks is foreshadowing and a subtle revealing of background inform ...more
It's so hard to give a rating to this book. Before page 100, I might have given it one star - I was using it as a sort of sleeping pill, then I started to get interested in this story - but more the way it was constructed - how unbalanced it was for a story with a balanced title. Fascinated by how unlikable both girls and their families were. Frustrated by the hypnotic, repetitive moments. "ScuseMe , tell me about Minette's glasses one more time and I'll go crazy." But this just shows how obsess ...more
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Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She is also the recipient of the 2005 Prix Femina for The Falls. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and she has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. Pseudonyms ... Rosamond Smith and Laure ...more

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