A to Z Book Review: The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson

⭐⭐⭐

My letter “K” pick for this year’s Z to Z challenge was the much-anticipated debut, The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson.

This is a story of institutional racism, of growing up hard and trying to escape/ignore the ways that shaped you – and the things that you carry forward. Ruth, a Yale graduate and the main character, begins the story on election night, 2008, where she and her executive husband, Xavier celebrate the election of President Obama from their comfortable home in Chicago among a bevy of friends, ecstatic and clearly very much in love with each other.

From there, we learn the secret Ruth has been hiding from her husband all these years: she had a baby at seventeen and gave the child up for adoption. This reveal goes over about as good as you think hiding a life-altering secret from your spouse would go over. Shortly after, Ruth returns to her small, economically depressed Indiana hometown (alone), where layers of secrets and family drama unravel as she seeks – and finds – her son.

I recognize fully that I’m viewing a study of racism and economics through the heavily-filtered lens of growing up white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed and middle class, but many elements of this story were universal and resounding. Johnson’s writing is deeply nuanced and heartfelt, but it read slow in places packed with too much extraneous detail, and several times I wanted to grab Ruth by the shoulders and shake her for how naively she was portrayed – particularly having grown up as she did.

Still a strong read, and a good case study on what makes a family. Three stars.

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