I was probably nine or ten the first time I read The Bluest Eye. I wasn’t ready. As an adult working at a library circulation desk, it’s easy for me to get upset whenever I see parents vetoing their children’s book choices; this book is “too girly” or that book is too “mature.” But when I think back to that summer — like I said, the chronology is fuzzy but I do remember it being a horribly hot summer — I sort of wish my mother had stopped me. Sort of.
Unfortunately, the message I took away from The Bluest Eye, and later forays into historical fiction about people who looked like me, was that my reading choices would be limited to a very short span of history, a handful of centuries in a hostile land where we were either under a literal yoke or a figurative one. In those misguided years until my black consciousness phase in high school, I compulsively and jealously read the stories of others; of medieval Europe and the revolution in white America. Even my early encounters with fantasy were disappointing, and the books I managed to find on my own were ones where the brown girl was still just the heroine’s friend.
Perhaps if I hadn’t been too shy to ask a librarian for help, someone could have told young me that not all my history was depressing and not all historical fiction would traumatize me.
Reading historical fiction when your history involves oppression is tough.