Florida kitsch swirls together with magical realism in this glittering debut novel about a young Black and Indigenous woman who learns to change the color of her skin
Gabrielle has always had a complicated relationship with her mother Tallulah, one marked by intimacy and resilience in the face of a volatile patriarch. Everything in their home has been bleached a cold white—from the cupboards filled with sheets and crockery to the food and spices Tallulah cooks with. Even Gabrielle, who inherited the ability to change the color of her skin from her mother, is told to pass into white if she doesn’t want to upset her father.
But this vital mother-daughter bond implodes when Tallulah is hospitalized for a mental health crisis. Separated from her mother for the first time in her life, Gabrielle must learn to control the temperamental shifts in her color on her own.
Meanwhile, Gabrielle is spending a year after high school focusing on her piano lessons, an extracurricular her father is sure will make her a more appealing candidate for pre med programs. Her instructor, a queer, dark-skinned woman named Dominique, seems to encapsulate everything Gabrielle is missing in her life—creativity, confidence, and perhaps most importantly, a nurturing sense of love.
Following a young woman looking for a world beyond her family’s carefully -coded existence, Notes on Her Color is a lushly written and haunting tale that shows how love, in its best sense, can be a liberating force from destructive origins.
About the Author
Jennifer Neal is an American-Australian author, artist, and occasional stand-up comedian. She is a graduate of The Florida State University, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. She has written for NPR, Playboy, Gay Magazine, The Cut, The Root, and many other publications. She is a MacDowell Fellow and a Pushcart Prize-nominated essayist. She lives in Berlin (for now) where she works as a freelance producer and translator.
One of Electric Literature's Books by Women of Color to Read This Year Debutiful, A Most Anticipated Book of the Year Goodreads, A Buzziest Debut Novel of the Year
"A vibrant story of self-actualization . . . Riveting . . . A sweeping story of family, community, coming of age, trauma, mental illness, and the life-giving power of art." —Sarah Neilson, Shondaland
"At its core, this is a story of expectations, relationships and love." —Karla Strand, Ms., A Most Anticipated Title of the Year "In this coming-of-age debut, exceptional storyteller Neal paints a picture of racism and patriarchy in suburban Florida and one young woman’s journey to break free from it all." —Booklist (starred review)
"A haunting coming-of-age story, a melodic love letter to the language of music and a fierce, dark, rage-filled upbraiding of patriarchal violence . . . A fascinating commentary on race, power, invisibility and desire." —Laura Sackton, BookPage
"This novel sparkles with rich, lyrical, sensuous prose. It portrays dysfunctional family relationships, cleverly revealing their complexity and contradictions as the story unfolds. It is moving and desperately sad at times, yet not without hope. An original novel that will stay with me long after reading." —Jacqueline Roy, author of The Gosling Girl "Remember how the half-hidden rides at amusement parks seemed riskier than the out-in-the-open, sky-high roller coasters? Because you’d hear a scream get swallowed up behind the façade of a mountain range and not know what was going to come next. Reading Jennifer Neal’s impressive debut, Notes on Her Color, a magical journey about music and race and queerness and passing and mothers and daughters, reminds me of those mysterious, thrill rides. While the twists and turns hide around the bend, you are also keenly aware that you’re being navigated safely, regardless of the illusion of danger. Then when you get dumped into the daylight, hair all mussed from the swerves, the first thing you want to do is to turn to your fellow passengers and recap every moment. Read this book. Come find me and we can bond over our shared joy. Weep over what we thought we feared." —Gene Kwak, author of Go Home, Ricky!
“Gosh, what a wonder this book is. It's about race, yes of course. But it's about so much more as well. It's a tale of mothers and daughters, of Florida hurricanes and the madness of music. It's about code switching in ways that you've never considered, and about what it means to be of a place and of a people. Jennifer Neal has written a book drenched in hurt and magic, love and grief. Read it twice, because a book like this comes along rarely.” —Sami Shah, author of Boy of Fire and Earth
"This is a coming of age story with a difference. With a generous helping of magical realism and the assured tenderness of a born storyteller, Jennifer Neal lays bare the brutality of how intergenerational trauma and racism conspire to teach us to hate ourselves." —Ruby Hamad, author of White Tears/Brown Scars
"Spellbinding and original, Notes on Her Color marks the arrival of a significant new voice in contemporary literature. Through the story of Gabrielle, a young woman seeking to transcend the 'orchestral catastrophe' of her home life, Jennifer Neal has crafted a vivid and powerful meditation on mothers and daughters, houses haunted by the living, and the redemptive power of love and music." —Tom Drury, author of Pacific
“This novel is an ode to the artistic and individual truth and an unflinching examination of soft-spoken suburban bigotry; it’s a crescendo of Florida hurricanes, first love, and the undeniability of becoming yourself. The remarkable protagonist of Notes on Her Color practices Chopin’s second piano scherzo, a piece described by Schumann as 'so overflowing with tenderness, boldness, love, and contempt.' The same is all true of Jennifer Neal’s lyrical and urgent debut.” —Rebecca Rukeyser, author of The Seaplane on Final Approach