cover image Light Skin Gone to Waste: Stories

Light Skin Gone to Waste: Stories

Toni Ann Johnson. Univ. of Georgia, $22.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-8203-6306-6

A Black girl growing up in a white suburb bears the brunt of her family’s fissures in Johnson’s piercing linked collection (after the novella Homecoming). In “Up That Hill,” the Arrington family leaves the Bronx, N.Y., in the early 1960s for a suburb, where, in “Claiming Tobias,” Phil, a psychologist, starts his own practice, and Velma, his wife, opens an antique store. It is through their daughter, Maddie, one of the only Black children in town, that Johnson reveals the devastating expense of the family’s rise. In “Claiming Tobias,” five-year-old Maddie is vaguely aware that she requires a slightly darker shade of Crayola to draw herself than the “peach” used for her best friend Tobias. But when her family hires a dark-skinned Haitian nanny, a heretofore unspoken color hierarchy among the children is revealed. Several years later, in “Lucky,” the family travels through West Africa, where Maddie’s parents become entranced by the trappings of expat glamour. Johnson skillfully elucidates—though never excuses—the source of Phil’s and Velma’s often infuriating inability to see Maddie’s suffering, particularly in “Wings Made of Rocks” and “The Way We Fell out of Touch,” both of which illuminate their painful pasts. Such insights, though, are never made available to Maddie, and while Johnson succeeds at getting the reader invested, one yearns to learn more about Maddie. Still, Johnson proves herself a fine story writer. (Oct.)