I hated the movie Shawshank Redemption.
I feel that I should tell you that up-front so you know where I’m coming from as I review “We Are Not Like Them”.
I hated Shawshank Redemption because the guy goes to jail for a crime he didn’t commit. It happened in the first few minutes but I couldn’t let it go. And everything after was ruined by the fact that he should have never been in prison in the first place.
That’s how I feel about this book. According to the blurb, it’s about “two women, one Black named Riley and one white named Jen, whose friendship is indelibly altered by a tragic event—a powerful and poignant exploration of race in America today and its devastating impact on ordinary lives.”
That tragic event is that Jen’s police officer husband shoots and kills an innocent Black teenager as he walks home from school. (A fatal case of mistaken identity, utter stupidity, blatant racism and complete and total disregard for human life).
Ya’ll, it happened on page one and I couldn’t let it go.
Especially because this fictional story actually happens ALL THE TIME and I am sick of it. I almost didn’t read this book because I don’t want the fictional story that is just as bad as the real thing. I want the fictionalized versions to be “Police stop killing Black people. The end.” Or “Police officer kills black teen. Gets life in prison. Kid magically comes back to life and gets to live out his days in peace and prosperity. The end.”
I think the book is supposed to present moral dilemmas and pull at the heartstrings and make you put yourself in both Riley, the news reporter and Jen, the pregnant wife’s shoes and wonder what you would do or say. You’re supposed to understand them and perhaps even root for them and become empathetic towards them by seeing their thought processes.
Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t ever warm up to Jen. She was the worst. And as a Black woman with White friends, I would never knowingly have a friend like Jen. Not in a million years. I wanted to tell Riley to wake the heck up. Riley’s friendship with Jen actually made me like Riley less. Jen was a horrible person from beginning to end who never changed or grew or anything. While I appreciate that Jen wasn’t a “woke” White woman (for reasons I won’t go into here), the authors didn’t convince me that Jen and Riley were TRULY friends. Their friendship seemed one-sided and made me kind of mad at times.
The part that I can’t believe got past the Black author of this book was a little lookback part when Jen talks about her history with Riley and how Riley went off to college and she didn’t. In this section, Jen said that Riley got into Northwestern on scholarship because she’s Black. I was stunned. Jen said “I could have gotten a scholarship and gone to college if I’d been Black like my best friend.” Um, what?! Point me to a college in America that is in Black communities handing out admissions and degrees like ice cream cones. Black people are not getting anything because we’re Black. Least of all an education. Who is she? Abigail Fisher? Studies show that Affirmative Action benefits White women the most. By far. It’s not a contest. Not a general wondering. It’s a fact.
And racial affirmative action doesn’t take the place of merit anyway. Affirmative Action doesn’t give Black people opportunities they don’t deserve. It gives them a fighting chance to get an opportunity they DO deserve, but would never get without the government forcing schools to admit them and jobs to hire them. The fact that Riley went on to be a reporter in one of the top 4 markets in the country proves that not only did she deserve her scholarship at Northwestern, but she is smart, skilled and talented. To dismiss her achievements as though they were somehow handed to her because she is Black is irresponsible on the part of the authors and perpetuates negative stereotypes that Black women are fighting every single day.
Jen said her mom refused to fill out the FAFSA because she didn’t want the government knowing how much she makes. You can’t even be considered for a scholarship without turning in a FAFSA. But instead of blaming her MOM, she says that Riley got scholarship after scholarship even though she got none and they ran the same relay races. Ya’ll. A relay race isn’t getting anyone into Northwestern. Period. Furthermore, the enrolled student population at Northwestern University, both undergraduate and graduate, is 43% White and 5% Black. They are clearly not swinging wide the admissions gates for Black students while shutting White students out.
Jen didn’t do the *bare minimum* of turning in a one page form while Riley was doing *the most*: filling out forms and writing essays and getting excellent grades. Then, when Jen doesnt get rewarded handsomely for her utter mediocrity, she feels slighted by her best friend’s hard won excellence.
This aggravated me so much, but let me move on…
The husband (and his entire family!) do not do anything to endear the readers to police officers. We can only hope that most police officers are not out here patrolling the streets with his mindset. But then I think about real life Derek Chauvin and his smug grin while he killed George Floyd in front of a crowd in broad daylight while the other officers did NOTHING TO STOP IT and I realize that the husband in this book is actually probably supposed to be one of the “good ones”. Yikes.
It sounds like I hated the book. I didn’t! I think any book that makes me want to keep reading and find out what happens and/or evokes strong feelings is a good book.
What I did like about the story is the pacing and how it was told. I liked the alternating perspectives and I liked hearing Jen’s side (even though she was despicable). I loved Riley’s news reporter job. I work in news and you can tell the authors did their homework with her character. The storyline was believable overall and I think it was brave of the authors to even go there. I wish they wouldn’t have picked the victim to be a 14-year-old kid though. That was TOO MUCH. I also wanted a different ending, but I rarely like the end of books.
Also, for my audiobook readers: I alternated between the physical copy and the audiobook. I recommend the audio! I LOVED that the book was narrated by two different people. That was fantastic. I read it at 1.5 speed and enjoyed the narration.
3 stars overall because the college thing ticked me off 🙂
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