Birdie Lee and Cole Lee, daughters of a black academic and a white radical, are separated when their mother's involvement in radical politics gains FBI attention: Cole, who looks black, goes off with their father and his new (black) girlfriend to Brazil (their father says he is sick of America), and Birdie, who looks white, is sent off with their mother to pass as white and part-Jewish. The best part of the book covers the girls' childhood and education; subsequent parts, skimming over Birdie's time with her mother in a feminist separatist commune and focusing in too-great detail on her time in a nearly all-white town in New Hampshire, are too long, and the concluding reunion with father and sister are perhaps too compressed and too neat (in some cases too neatly unneat): Senna hasn't pulled off a really successful ending in either of her books, I think.
What compels is the power of Senna's voice, the delicate depiction of detail and navigation among American illusions and convictions about race, and the rawness of Birdie's longing for her sister and her people: where the unnamed, unmoored heroine of [book:Symptomatic] identified herself as biracial (or, in some ways, nonracial, nonbelonging), Birdie has a very clear sense of herself as black that she never loses, and her agony at being separated from her community physically (the only one) and psychically (passing as white) is terrible. The book opens with her memory of a time before words, when she saw herself in her sister's black face, and that is always the reflection she seeks; she always longs for the language she and her sister made up, a language no one else could understand, and there is a deliberate slippage between sisterhood and community. [Expand on this more in actual review.]