________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 7 . . . . November 21, 2008

cover Black and White.

Eric Walters.
Toronto, ON: Penguin, 2009.
177 pp., pbk., $12.99.
ISBN 978-0-14-331249-9.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Betty Klassen.

*** /4

Reviewed from Uncorrected and Unpublished Proofs.


"Look, Tom, I know that black people can ski and swim. Remember when that sportscaster got fired for saying that black people have heavier bones and that's why they can't swim? I hope you don't think I'm that stupid! But I also know that there do appear to be more black athletes in some sports than others. You know, there are a lot of black track, football, and especially basketball stars, and not so many in tennis, golf, hockey, or Olympic swimming events."

"Well, maybe there would be more if more black members got sponsored into clubs like ours," I suggested.

"There probably would be, and if you know any black families that want into our club, I'll happily sponsor them."

"You'd do that?" I asked.

"You know me well enough to know the answer to that."

He was right. He'd always treated everybody fairly. I'd never heard him, or my mother, ever say anything that was racist about anybody. I couldn't even imagine him doing that.

"I'm glad you're okay about me having Denyse as my girlfriend."

My father looked up. "When did that happen?"

"You mean the girlfriend part?"

He nodded.

"Yesterday. You're okay with that... right?"


Black and White is the standard three stage romance story plot: 1) boy meets girl, 2) they encounter problems, 3) readers wonder if their relationship will survive. The reader's interest is maintained though because Walters has made effective use of dialogue between his key characters to tell the story and to raise issues of racism and stereotyping. The pace of the book is quite fast, aptly reflecting how quickly some adolescents start and stop their dating relationships.

     Tom and his friend Steve are white, grade eight elite basketball players who make good use of the school day to watch girls and plan their social life. Tom is a good student while Steve spends too much time on the phone and on Facebook instead of completing his homework. The initiating incident occurs when Steve gets grounded, leaving Tom to go to a movie with two grade seven girls, Denyse and Bridget. At the movie theatre, when Bridget accidentally buys a ticket for the wrong movie, Tom and Denyse go to the planned movie while Bridget goes to a different movie alone.

     Tom and Denyse are met with gossip and snide comments Monday morning as many students from school have seen them together at the movie on Friday night. Interest in their relationship is heightened because, while they have many things in common — basketball, sugar on their popcorn, and both are strong students — Denyse is black, hence the book title: Black and White.

     Both sets of parents find opportunities to caution them that they will encounter opposition to their relationship, but they do not tell them to stop "seeing" each other. Denyse's father is a Baptist minister who preaches the "best" sermon Tom has ever heard in response to a shooting of a black man by a white cop. He uses it to illustrate how, in certain situations, racism is often assumed to be a factor and that we need to carefully weigh all the facts before we make a judgment.

     Denyse's older brother, Jamar, is not too welcoming when he finds out her "friend" Tom is her "boyfriend." Jamar gains some respect for Tom as they play basketball together, and he shares his concern for the opposition Denyse and Tom will face in light of his own dating experiences.

     The story is written in the first person, thereby giving readers Tom's point of view throughout. It takes place over a few weeks as they attend school, basketball games, a school dance, a movie, church, and go skiing. Denyse and Tom come from stable, well-to-do families, with stay-at-home moms and successful fathers. This is not a life to which all adolescents can relate. The incidents of racism and stereotyping in the book are worthy of thoughtful discussion and action, and they provide depth to a story that otherwise would be too sweet and perfect.


Betty Klassen teaches in the Faculty of Education in the Middle Years Program at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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