Eleven-year-old twins Keira and Minni are used to the funny looks their “chessboard family” receives: Keira takes after their black mother and Minni takes after their white father. In spite of their differences in appearance and personality, the girls share a bond that they are convinced cannot be broken. When their maternal grandmother invites them to fly from their coastal Washington town to North Carolina so that she can enroll them in the Miss Black Pearl of America Program, their artistic mother is hesitant: she has issues with her overbearing, social-climbing parent. However, Mama competed in the program herself when she was growing up, and finally agrees that the twins should have the experience as well. Keira is ecstatic about the idea of entering a “pageant,” but introverted Minni is not looking forward to the experience. Her reservations seem well-founded when they arrive: Grandmother Johnson is just as persnickety as ever, and the Black Pearl’s president questions whether Minni qualifies to participate in this program intended for black girls. Ironically, their grandmother seems ambivalent about her own dark skin, and encourages Keira to straighten her hair and to use sunscreen to prevent further darkening. The ten days the girls spend with Grandmother Johnson, preparing for and competing in the program, are not easy ones: Minni learns what it feels like to be the odd person out in terms of appearance, and Keira is resentful that up until now, Minni really hasn’t understood what she was going through in their all-white Seattle suburb. But both girls grow in the process, and learn a few things about their grandmother’s own struggle to be seen as an equal by the white community. As she did in Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything In It (2007), Frazier addresses issues faced by mixed-race children with a grace and humor that keep her tone from being pedantic. Minni’s and Keira’s story is enjoyable in its own right, and will encourage readers to rethink racial boundaries and what it means to be “black” or “white” in America.
(from July 2010 SLJ)