cover image Did You Hear About Kitty Karr?

Did You Hear About Kitty Karr?

Crystal Smith Paul. Holt, $27.99 (416p) ISBN 978-1-250-81530-9

In Paul’s appealing if overlong debut, a Black Hollywood family reckons with a surprising and complicated past. The St. Johns live in a Bel Air mansion that features a garden maze and a Ferris wheel. Elise is the family’s latest star of the silver screen and up for an Academy Award for Best Actress. Her mother, Sarah, is also a storied actor, while her father, James is a renowned musician. Elise is preoccupied with managing her image and avoiding the paparazzi, until the death of neighbor Kitty Karr, Elise’s beloved mentor, who leaves a fortune to Elise and her two sisters. As Elsie goes through Kitty’s journals, the narrative winds back to Kitty’s hardships in 1930s North Carolina and mid-century Hollywood glamour, and Elise learns that while Kitty passed as white, she was actually a light-skinned Black woman. Though Paul crowds the narrative with far too many underdeveloped characters and makes a few too many implausible plot leaps, she ably describes Kitty’s transformation and unflinchingly details the racism, misogyny, and exploitation Kitty faced as a young woman. Though a bit clunky, the dramatic story and hefty subject matter would make a fine adaptation to the silver screen. (May)