The Gilded Years

The Gilded Years

Book - 2016
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Anita Hemmings always longed to attend Vassar College, the countrys most exclusive school for women. Now, a bright, beautiful senior in the class of 1897, she is hiding a secret: with her olive complexion and dark hair, this daughter of a janitor and descendant of slaves has successfully passed as white.
Publisher: New York : Washington Square Press, c2016
ISBN: 9781501110450
Branch Call Number: FIC Tana
Characteristics: 382 pages ; 21 cm


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Jun 19, 2017

"The Gilded Years" is an fictionalized story about Anita Hemmings, who in real life was the first black woman to graduate from Vassar. Anita, who "passed" as white through most of her college career, was outed by her roommate in her final semester. The whole scenario makes for interesting historical fiction. The book is well researched, and Karin Tanabe portrays the Gilded Age's glamour, juxtaposing it with the poverty of the have-nots. There were a few issues that niggled at me: The characters' motivations were often obscure, and it wasn't clear how certain African-American characters rose to such prominent positions when racial bias was so strong. Clearer depictions of those things would have made the characters, and the book overall, more realistic for me. Still, it was worth the read to learn about Anita's story.

AL_ANNAL Sep 03, 2016

The world of Vassar College in 1897, through the eyes of a black student passing as white. Illuminating in so many ways!

DBRL_KatSU Aug 19, 2016

I had never heard of Anita Hemmings before I learned of this book! "The Gilded Years" follows Anita in her senior year (1897) at Vassar College, where black women were not admitted. Anita was black, but very light skinned, and she gained admittance by passing as white. Her new roommate, Lottie, introduced her to the seemingly magical world of the privileged, and despite all the warnings from her family (and the truth she knew herself), she allowed herself to become close to Lottie. And close to a handsome, wealthy Harvard gentleman. It all becomes too much for Anita when her brother (who is also light-skinned, but not quite as light as Anita) becomes the apple of Lottie's eye.

I genuinely enjoyed this story, but I feel that the dialogue felt forced and unnatural at times- though this could have just been the author attempting to show the time period. I also had some trouble with the reasoning behind some of the characters' actions. Given all that, I still highly recommend this historical fiction novel!


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