The Black Girl Next Door
by Jennifer Baszile
If you’re a parent, you know what you’ll do for your children. Everything. You’ll work seven days a week to ensure they get what they need. You’ll do without to give them what they want. You tell your kids that you want a better life for them than you had. And you know what? Your parents said that, too, and your kids will say the same thing to their kids. In the new book “The Black Girl Next Door” (c.2009, Touchstone, $25.00 / $28.99 Canada, 310 pages) by Jennifer Baszile, you’ll read one woman’s coming-of-age story about coming up differently on a path to the Great American Dream. When she was in first grade, Jennifer Baszile’s father made an important after-school appearance to speak with Jennifer’s teacher. A classmate had told Jennifer that black people had something special in their feet that made them fast runners, and the teacher agreed. Barry Baszile quickly set the teacher straight. After the family moved to a nicer home in a California suburb, the Basziles, one of the few African American families in the neighborhood, were victims of spray-painted racist graffiti. Barry Baszile scrubbed the offensive words off the sidewalk, but his daughter remembers that a defaced marble-fountain angel was never completely white again. The following Christmas, Jennifer Baszile met her father’s Louisiana kin and in doing so, she learned much about her father. Not long afterward, Baszile met her mother’s Detroit relation, people Janet Baszile rarely spoke of. Meeting both halves of her family helped Jennifer Baszile fill many holes in her familial knowledge. But the older Jennifer got, the more her family’s façade began to crack. On a week-long cruise ship vacation, the Basziles locked Jennifer and her sister out of their stateroom because the girls hadn’t introduced themselves to the other black kids on board. Barry Baszile started to stay “on the streets” more often and more blatantly. When the situation came to a head one night because of a taunting question, it became obvious to the Black Girl that she would have to be Next Door in another part of the country to save her sense of self. “The Black Girl Next Door” was an okay book, but. But it oftentimes seemed a bit repetitive. But it gets bogged down in between lively, engaging bits. But author Jennifer Baszile stopped some stories too soon and lingered too long on others. But I had a hard time getting a good grasp on the love-hate relationship Baszile had with her family. On the other hand, Baszile’s stories are unique in that they’re told from the perspective of someone who grew up in the post-Civil-Rights “enlightened” 70s and 80s, at a time when we were supposed to have believed that racism was a thing of the past. That perspective, and the fact that this is Baszile’s first book, redeem this memoir. I think readers - especially African American women - who grew up with “Cosby,” “Thriller,” and legwarmers-as-fashion-statement will get a kick out of this book. For you, reading “The Black Girl Next Door” will be like coming home.