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The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe Book Review

Reasons For Reading This Book:

If you read my review of The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett then you will know that it sparked a great discussion with my mom about the topic of ‘passing’. She had read The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe and said that it was about the same topic and highly recommended it. Since the topic of ‘passing’ was new to me and I was interested and wanting to feed into the momentum of it, I picked up a copy of The Gilded Years from the library soon after she recommended it.


Content of the Book:

Anita Hemmings is the oldest of her siblings, having a younger brother and sister. Raised in Boston by her hardworking janitor father and house-making mother, both descendants of salves, Anita has dreamed of achieving higher education at the prestigious women’s Vassar College. Despite being African-American, Anita has made the dangerous decision to apply as a white student. She is the only African-American student to ever attend Vassar. Once admitted and having made it until her senior year without many challenges, Anita is now rooming with Louise “Lottie” Taylor a rich New York socialite. They form a friendship that puts Anita’s secret in a dangerous situation. This newfound friendship gives Anita opportunities to experience parts of society that would otherwise not be assessable to her. Will Anita’s secret be revealed after Lottie becomes infatuated by Anita’s brother Frederick? All Anita has to do it get that diploma and she will have done it.


What I Liked About This Book:

As someone who is becoming more and more of a fan of historic fiction and nonfiction, I was captivated by the setting of the Gilded Age and how the societal norms and cultural expectations of the times played into the story. The author created an all-encompassing perspective of the Gilded Age by detailing the attire, societal standings, popular events, language, and so much more. The writing style was effortless and fluid. The author was able to explain the importance of these aspects of the time in a way that blended effortlessly into the narration of the story without sounding academic. The combination of inner dialogue and Anita’s narration provided the reader with all the information and more that was required to fully understand the plot and how the author wanted to portray Anita. Even through parts of the plot are fictionalized, it is all very believable. Two of my favorite parts of the book were the last chapter and the author’s notes. I found the last chapter to be the perfect conclusion. The author’s notes were particularly interesting because they detailed how and why the author chose to write this story and what changes or additions they made to the plot and gave reasons for why. Even though parts of the story are fictionalized I still enjoyed it and can think of Anita and her story both the true and fictionalized way. Since I mentioned in the reasons for reading this book that this is only my second book on the topic of ‘passing’, The Vanishing Half (1st book I read on the topic) and The Gilded Years are completely different books with varying perspectives on the topic of ‘passing’.


What I Disliked About This Book:

My only real complaint about this book is Anita repeatedly thought the same thoughts relating to her situation. I get that this was a choice by the author to reiterate how consuming this situation was and how it dictated everything she did and said, but I feel as though the author could have found different ways to say the same thing instead of repeating the same phrase over and over.


Would I Recommend This Book?

Even if you have read The Vanishing Half or other books on this topic, I still recommend this book because they are very different. Whether you are a fan of historic fiction or not I highly recommend this book. The book is littered with so many takeaways and is a truly fascinating story. You will become captivated by the story and the time of the Gilded Age.

Check out my book reviews for 2023!!

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Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
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Hester by Laurie Pico Albanese
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Environmental and Sustainability Book Reviews 2022
Self-Improvement Book Reviews 2022
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Know My Name by Chanel Miller
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Check out my book reviews for 2021!!

2021 Book Rankings

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Educated by Tara Westover
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Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins 
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Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
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We Are the Brennans by Tracey Lange
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Klara and the Sun 
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American Duchess by Karen Harper 
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Girl With No Job by Claudia Oshry
Down the Habit Hole by Holly Madison Book Review
My Story by Elizabeth Smart
Layla by Colleen Hoover

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