Into White by Randi Pink – Quietly subversive and full of wit

into-white

When a black teenager prays to be white and her wish comes true, her journey of self-discovery takes shocking–and often hilarious–twists and turns in this debut that people are sure to talk about.

LaToya Williams lives in Birmingham, Alabama, and attends a mostly white high school. She’s so low on the social ladder that even the other black kids disrespect her. Only her older brother, Alex, believes in her. At least, until a higher power answers her only prayer–to be “anything but black.” And voila! She wakes up with blond hair, blue eyes, and lily white skin. And then the real fun begins . . .’

I heard that when people read the synopsis for this novel, it made them feel apprehensive and anxious. I hope, with this review, I may help in trying to dispel some apprehensions that you may have.

Into White presents a fascinating premise and also asks a very compelling what if – what if a black girl magically became white overnight? What would be the effects and consequences? Into White is either a book that you can take at face-value, a decision that will lead you to not fully appreciate what this book is trying to say, or you can read deeply and find thoughtful, positive messages about self-image and discovering what matters the most. Leave your expectations and ideas of ‘what it ought to be’ at the door – this book is great on its own.

Into White is subtly subversive and very cleverly so. Not only is the narrative not afraid to openly address and discuss racism and prejudice that black people experience, but it also subverts a handful of character tropes of white and black people. I strongly disagree with reviewers who said that the characters in Into White are ‘nothing more than the colours of their skin’. The portrayal of white characters in this novel is, indeed, very exaggerated with stereotypical characterizations, but I think there was a point. Hear me out: in contrast, all the black characters were rounded and interesting, and had fantastic character developments.

This book is not about white people. It is not about humanising white racists or humanising the ghosts of the people who have hurt people of colour with their prejudiced and racist words. Into White is a book that is entirely about and rightfully centers on its black characters, specifically Toya’s emotional and personal journey. It is a celebration of blackness, black beauty, and self-love.

Black skin was filled with so many barriers, so many restrictions, so many.

Underneath its light narrative is a thoughtful and subtle discourse on how people with marginalized identities can internalize the hate for who we are, the invisible but visceral hurt we feel, and how racism intersects with classism. The narrative of Into White is largely character-driven and follows Toya, a deeply flawed teenager who blindly and desperately wants to be loved and accepted by her peers and society. Her desperation leads her to pray to Jesus and wishes to be white (thus the story has religious elements), only to find that her wish is granted. The what if‘s start to follow, and what follows is a series of sometimes funny and sometimes heartbreaking moments that exhibit a profound awareness of the contradictions, double-standards and hypocrisy of institutions and people that privilege whiteness.

MTV casting directors made black kids … want to be white without even realizing it.

Toya was a wonderful protagonist. Although she makes silly decisions and consequently hurts the people around her, I couldn’t help but empathize with her – empathize with her gnawing need to feel loved, accepted, and beautiful. Her growth in the book was phenomenal, and my favourite part was when she was shown that she could be beautiful and celebrated; that part resonated with me so much. With the fantastical elements of the narrative, Toya gradually develops self-awareness, courage to stand up for herself, and, later, finally sees what matters most to her. Toya’s family were also wonderful. What I loved is that although they, initially, appear to be stereotypical characters, as Toya’s self-awareness and perspective changes, so do the portrayal of her parents and her fantastic brother. Indeed, they become developed characters with quirks and flaws and by the end we see a family that is imperfect but will stick together in the worst of times.

Though I enjoyed Into White, it does have some problems which need to be addressed. Eating disorders are mentioned in this novel and the way it was portrayed trivialized it in a harmful way. There is also an attempted sexual assault in this novel, and how it was handled and treated missed its mark and had disconcerting implications. The portrayal and inclusion of the eating disorders references were irrelevant and unnecessary to the overarching story, and it’s disappointing that sexual assault was used as character development (for a character that was not the victim, or perpetrator, no less). Writers need to move past this trope.

Taking into consideration the criticisms and problematic elements above, Into White still presents a meaningful and heartfelt coming of age. More so, Into White excellently demonstrates that self-love and celebration of black beauty, in a society with white standards of beauty, can be a form of resistance (which, for Toya, it was). It is flawed, and far far far from perfect, but it was nonetheless a wonderful debut that was brimming with raw emotion and sincerity.

Rating: 4/5

Book Information
Book Name: Into White
Author: Randi Pink
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Format: Hardback

Goodreads | Book Depository | My review on Goodreads


(Book content and trigger warnings: Racism, harmful mention of eating disorders, sexual assault.)

While I really enjoyed Into White, I want to emphasize that given the content warnings above, it is not for everyone and if you do choose to read it, please take care. I want to also thank Sanovia from CreatyveBooks for discussing this book with me and discussing how parts of the book were problematic. I encourage you all to read her review here.

  • Have you read Into White? What were your thoughts on the book if you’ve read it?
  • I reviewed this book and published it on the month of Black History Month. What are you reading for Black History Month?
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12 thoughts on “Into White by Randi Pink – Quietly subversive and full of wit

  1. This book sounds fantastic. I too would be troubled by a problematic handling of sexual assault. A question about that,though: was it handled in a “realistic” way that could help draw attention to the problem of rape culture, or was it not really addressed at all? I’d be curious to know. But this is definitely one to be added to my TBR :)

    • Hey Jupiter!
      That’s a totally fair question!
      From memory, I don’t think it was addressed in a good or constructive way, and I do believe the narrative could have done without the scene. The purpose of the scene (without spoilers) was to reframe a certain character that had been antagonized throughout the book in an attempt to humanize him or show another side of him. I think, with that goal in mind, it could’ve been done in another way, especially without involving the jeopardy of a young teen’s safety.

      I have really mixed feeling about recommending this book, because whilst I think the story and the character development and the themes were fantastic, the problematic parts really brought it down. :(

  2. That was such a lovely review, as always. Your reviews are my favorite posts to read in all of the blogosphere. I first thought this might be a book I could enjoy, with all the character growth it sounds like something I could really love – but I am a bit nervous now hearing about these problematic parts of the book. I think I might have to think about it before getting into it. :)

    • Hi Marie!
      Thank you so much!
      Yes, I don’t blame you. The problematic parts of the book are a real let down, so in good conscience I cannot recommend it if those things could be upsetting.
      Whatever your decision – read or not read – I support it. <3

  3. I guess white people aren’t so used to being represented as trivial stereotypes.. That point really reminds me of an essay I read concerning gender on the show Orphan Black. It was called Empty Suits, and talked about people’s complaints that all the male characters in the show were totally flat… which was totally the point. It frustrates me when people deliberately ignore subversive writing. I think people get so caught up in defending their sense of self they are totally unable to see when that self might be hurting others.

    Anyway. What I came here to say is that you have been doing some really interesting reading lately, and I love hearing about it! I’m adding this book to the TBR :)

    • Hi Lydia!
      That’s definitely the interpretation I got, but I could totally be missing the mark. I’ve heard of Orphan Black, but don’t know much about it! Have you seen it? :D

      I do agree though. I’m really sad that the top reviews for this book are negative reviews that, I think, miss the point. :/

      hehe thanks! I haven’t read much lately… I’m so swamped in work. T_T

      • Postgrad work? How’s it all going??

        Orphan Black is SO good. It is such a great show about women that really looks at all aspects of life. Also the girl that plays all the ‘orphans’ is incredible. She’s playing like 9 different people at this point but you only ever see them as separate characters.

        • I’ll DM you sometime on Twitter and tell you about it!
          Oh I see! I don’t know much about it apart from the fact that they had positive representation of natural body hair. I’ll have to look this up – it sounds really interesting?!

  4. This does sound amazing – it went through several title changes and I kind of lost track of it, but it’s one I’ve been wanting to read for ages. Shame about the sexual assault and eating disorder portrayal, though.

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