Book Review: Everybody’s Son by Thrity Umrigar

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A (very) brief plot overview

When Anton’s mum locks him in their apartment to get her crack fix and doesn’t come back for a week, Anton has no choice but to break out and get help. Whilst his mum is incarcerated, Anton is fostered by Judge David Coleman, the epitome of white privilege. Using his power and connections, David adopts Anton, raising him in a world of privilege, but as an adult the truth of Anton’s past seeps out and he must try understand the complexities of his place in the world and the decisions of the people he loves the most.

What’s good about it?

I want to start by saying that book has got to be one of my most favourite books that I have read in a long time. It kept my interest from start to finish, made me think about the world and my place in it and stayed with me long after I had closed it. I cannot recommend it enough.

This book is a social commentary and a searingly honest one at that. It talks about race relations in America, privilege, racism, acceptance, understanding and other big issues in a way that isn’t lecturing, that feels real and that draws out an emotive response from the reader. When tackling such topics, I think it is vital to do it in a way that reminds people that whilst this is a fiction text, it is based in reality and talks about very real issues. Everybody’s Son does that perfectly.

One of the strongest points in this novel in my opinion is how it paints everyone as flawed but also as good people. Anton’s mum was a drug user who lived in poverty, yes, but not someone who abandoned her child or was a terrible mother. David used his position of privilege to take what wasn’t his, yes, but he knew that he could provide a unparalleled life for Anton and was an exceptionally good dad to him. So often when people talk about race, we take out the people behind the statistics or ideas, but each person in this book is someone trying their best whatever their circumstances are. At times their motives may be selfish or their actions hard to understand, but they are always human. For me, that is why this book worked so well and why I connected it – everyone was a person just trying to do their best.

As a white, British woman, I found Anton’s identity struggles the most poignant. Anton sometimes feels too black for his white privilege life, too white for his life with his black girlfriend Carine. Carine challenges Anton’s race and privilege and that in turn challenges the reader, too. Everybody’s Son gave an insight into what it is like to be someone with a foot in two different races, two different worlds. You feel happy for Anton because he has a fairytale, good life, but you know all along that there is a mother out there who loves him, who has always loved him. Your struggle as a reader to tie up these two narratives mimics how Anton struggles to tie up these two identities.

Whether people like to admit it or not, race is a really complex matter and racism does exist. Everybody’s Son shone a mirror to so many different aspects of this, from Anton leading an almost ignorant life so far removed from negative experiences to then being pulled over by the police for being black as soon as he left his state, to Anton’s grandfather being seen as liberal and helping race equality by many yet being challenged to do more to ease race relations by Carine. Comments and assumptions about Anton’s mum showed the level of ignorance by David and his friends while Delores’ shock at Anton’s school levels despite Anton being bright highlighted the difference in educational opportunities by those living in privilege and those in poverty. These are issues that need to be discussed and addressed. Everybody’s Son shows us that they are not black issues or white issues but everybody’s issues because they affect everyone, whether it be affecting people’s attitudes or their future. This book doesn’t tell us to become ‘white saviours’ or belittle anyone’s experience, but it shows us that we need to treat each other as humans, as equal, as valid. It’s a reminder that you wouldn’t think in 2019 we would need, but looking around at the world it is clear that we do.

What’s not so good?

Personally, I found that the last chapter ‘told’ me too much rather than letting me think for myself or take away my own understanding. Because this book has such a strong message, I feel like Umrigar wanted the ideas to come across clearly but I think it would have been stronger to have less of Anton’s introspective thoughts spelling out his take of racial differences and more of the reader coming to those conclusions them self.

Rate me: 10/10. This book has stayed with me longer after I finished it – I could read it again and again.

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