Review: It All Comes Down to This by Karen English

A Little Told L.Á. Perspective

FROM: Cultural Daily

It All Comes Down to This, a middle-grade novel by Karen English, begins with class privilege. “I saw [Mrs. Baylor hauling] herself heavily up the hill,” says 12-year-old Sophie, the narrator, looking out her den window. Sophie’s mother is interviewing housekeepers and this Black woman, Sophie can see, “resented that the hill was steep.” Sophie’s family has recently moved into this two-story house adjacent to the Baldwin Hills. It’s 1965. Los Ángeles. The city and country are beginning to change.

At the outset, the reader learns that Sophie and her family are Black when Sophie describes her mother as having “a Dorothy Dandrige kind of beauty.” Then Sophie introduces brief backstory, saying her family used to live “on Sixth Avenue near Adams,” a neighborhood that’s historically Black. Now, they are the first Black family integrating the upper middle class white neighborhood of View Park, a neighborhood that would evolve into one for wealthy Blacks.

Sophie’s family is already economically privileged because her father’s a lawyer and her mother’s an art gallery curator. These are two high-powered, intellectually demanding, time-consuming, white-collar jobs, making them a rare Black family to have acquired wealth. Sophie’s mother therefore quickly hires the disapproving housekeeper Mrs. Baylor, English briefly mentioning she’s a Jamaican immigrant. English divulges such character-building facts by keeping them appropriately concise, like when Sophie notices Mrs. Baylor’s “…odd scar on her wrist.” English is not interrupting the flow of the narrative to explain the information, which prevents her from talking down to her young readers.

However, from the beginning, Sophie comparing her mother to Dorothy Dandridge indicates why it was easier for her family to acquire wealth and privilege than for the vast majority of Blacks: her mother’s shared light skin. She could pass. Sophie’s at the age where she begins to learn and understand this skin privilege: colorism. Read Rest of Review Here

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