One of Our Kind

By Nicola Yoon
Review by
Wildly successful young adult author Nicola Yoon’s first book for adults vividly captures the paradoxes and discontents of the striving Black middle class.
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Bestselling young adult author Nicola Yoon’s first book for adults is a provocative mashup of body snatcher horror in the vein of The Stepford Wives, with the intraracial introspection of Ellis Cose’s The Rage of a Privileged Class

One of Our Kind is built around the complex truth that while white liberal guilt is more remarked on in popular culture, the angst of the Black middle class is just as powerful. Jasmyn Williams is, in many ways, a lucky woman. As a public defender, she has work that matters, as well as a loving husband, an adorable 6-year-old son she cherishes and a second child on the way. And yet, as successful as both Jasmyn and her husband, King, are, they live in the shadow of racist violence. The solution King suggests is relocating to Liberty, a utopian Black enclave just outside Los Angeles. 

Moving to an elite outpost isn’t an easy choice for Jasmyn, but she never could have anticipated the danger that would unfold in this idyllic retreat. Black folks in Liberty seem strangely culturally whitewashed, and are apathetic about Black lives outside their sphere. Even Jasmyn’s one simpatico friend—a schoolteacher with a big Afro who’s married to another Black woman—eventually succumbs to a conservative makeover that seems to rob her of her personality and racial consciousness. And something is decidedly unwholesome about the local Wellness Center. Yet, though Liberty harbors dangerous secrets, Jasmyn’s anxieties stretch beyond it. News of police killings seeps into her consciousness through her phone like poison, and feelings of threat are her constant companion. This puts her at odds with the other Black folks who came to Liberty to forget racial danger. 

The paradoxes and discontents of the upwardly mobile Black bourgeoisie are territory the Jamaican-born, wildly successful Yoon knows intimately and draws with precision. Like Kiley Reid (Such a Fun Age and Come and Get It), Yoon vividly captures the racial and political zeitgeist that haunts the Williams family. The embodiment of striving Black middle-class anxiety, Jasmyn constantly judges herself and others, and is ambivalent even on vacation, feeling guilty “because how is this her life? Why should she have so much when others have so little?” As troubled as she is compelling, Jasmyn is a potent illustration of the effects of racial trauma. 

At times, Jasmyn’s constantly watchful point of view feels painfully earnest. Still, while One of Our Kind lacks the humor of racial satires like Jordan Peele’s Get Out or Percival Everett’s Erasure, Yoon’s observations are bold and razor sharp even when she’s immersed in her characters’ failings.

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One of Our Kind

One of Our Kind

By Nicola Yoon
ISBN 9780593470671

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