Student Picks: Everett, Zumas


Phil Lemos-- Once upon a time, a woman named Portia Poitier bore a son, and not wanting him to be confused with an acting icon, she named him Not Sidney Poitier. So begins the Percival Everett novel I Am Not Sidney Poitier, as well as the life of the titular character. 

It’s not long before Not Sidney’s mother dies, and a secret is revealed—despite residing in lower-middle-class Los Angeles, she owned a fortune in stock from Turner Broadcasting Group, which draws interest from Ted Turner himself, who adopts Not Sidney. As the fictitious memoir evolves, Not Sidney finds himself not only passing for the famous actor’s doppelganger, but also finding himself in plights absurdly similar to situations Poitier’s characters faced in Guess Who’s Coming to DinnerIn the Heat of the Night and Lilies in the Field.

The novel’s in-joke is, inevitably, doomed to get tired fast – every time Not Sidney introduces himself to a new character, a dialogue as familiar as an Abbott & Costello routine erupts. That said, as a study in absurdist satire, sharp dialogue, and a critique of just how our own identities are informed, I Am Not Sidney Poitier is a worthy and hilarious read.


Margaret McNellis-- Red Clocks by Leni Zumas has been compared to Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale for its dystopian elements, particularly concerning reproductive rights. Red Clocks is especially chilling because it could be possible in the near future. The world Zumas builds is not so different from our own, with differences only in policy—except those differences have both broad and deep consequences. Zumas masterfully presents this world through the eyes of four main characters—five if you count the story within a story.

While the first fifty pages or so can be challenging, this book is worth sticking with, and at that point, it gets easier to connect with the many characters’ points-of-view as their lives begin to intersect in both comfortably predictable and surprising ways. With as many chilling moments as there are heartwarming moments, Zumas crafts a story that presents an America so different, and yet so similar, to our own contemporary nation.