Book Review: Being Lara by Lola Jaye

Being Lara by Lola JayeThis is the fictional story of Lara, who was adopted from Nigeria at the age of 3, and grew up with an English family.

I enjoyed reading it, but I wondered about the way it was written: what was going on there?

Being Lara: What it is about

We meet Lara when she is 30 years old and is celebrating her birthday with her family. But then the door opens and a woman she had been wanting to meet since she was 10, comes in…

Lara is a successful business woman who was adopted at the age of 3, when her parents, her mother a well-known pop star, visited Nigeria for a charity project, saw her at an orphanage, and fell in love with her.

The book goes back in time and we read the stories of Yomi, Lara’s birth mother, and that of Pat, her adoptive mother. Why Lara ended up in an orphanage, we only find out towards the end of the book.

Lara has always had problems with abandonment and so far, at 30, has had several relationships but spoiled them for herself by expecting the partners to run off. Her newest boyfriend, Tyler, is a lovely man, but he can’t convince her that he’s there to stay.

When Lara finally meets her birth mother, she finds it hard to get close to her. She slowly starts to grow into the new Lara, who has a history not only in England, but also in Nigeria, and into a woman who dares to take some risks and doesn’t worry about being abandoned along the way.

Being Lara: What I thought

This was a good story about what it is like to be adopted. Not that I’d know, but it sounded very plausible. I liked it that Lara’s mother’s life in Nigeria (up to the point that Lara was born) was included in this story. While most of the book it wasn’t clear why she decided not to care for Lara herself, it was interesting (and useful, for later in the book) to know her back story. I don’t know anything about Nigeria so I loved to learn a bit about life there (in the 1970s and 1980s).

I didn’t like Lara all that much, though. She was neurotic about expecting her boyfriend to run off, and for that reason, didn’t even want him to to get close to her. She was rather business-like and cool. I’m not sure I was completely convinced by her fear of being abandoned. She’d had many years with her adoptive parents and had been abandoned by her birth mother when she was too young to remember it. I found that story line rather weak. Much better was how Lara got to know her birth mother and the sensitivities with her adoptive parents about this.

However, what irritated me enormously about the book was the following:
While little (and bigger) Lara was very occupied with the fact that she looked different from the people around her, the words blackwhite, and coloured did not appear in the book until page 222 (once each, and not after that page again, either). The author describes black people in terms of their hairdo (“a man and a lady both with big Afro hairstyles”, p. 70) or in relation to Lara (“Looking just like her.”). It seems that the author does not want to categorise people into black or white while this is exactly what Lara does do!

In my eyes, skin colour doesn’t in general matter, but in this story, it does, as Lara is a black girl surrounded by white people that makes her feel like an alien, and she doesn’t at first understand why she’s not like the others. So, I sincerely disliked how the story circumnavigates the issue of skin colour. I noticed this early on in the book and it bothered me a lot, although not so much that it spoiled the whole book for me.

The story was written fluently, and while it was not a page turner, I was curious to know what would happen next. In all, I enjoyed reading this book when I wasn’t irritated by the black/white issue.

Rating: 4/5 stars for the story as such, 3.5/5 stars when including the irritation factor

I got this book: for review from William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 320

First published: 2012 (March 13th)

Genre: contemporary fiction

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at bookhelpline.com. In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

19 Responses to Book Review: Being Lara by Lola Jaye

  1. Mystica says:

    I read Never Knowing a week ago and a similar story to some extent. Looking for your birth mother is something that turns out to be not exactly what you were expecting.

    • Leeswammes says:

      I think most adopted people fantasise about their birth mother, and she could be a princess who wasn’t allowed to keep her baby, or a drug addict. But often, it’s just a girl in a difficult position. It usually makes an interesting story, though.

  2. Alex says:

    Maybe the author wanted to be politically correct at the expense of realism?

    • Leeswammes says:

      Something like that, Alex. But how politically correct is it anyway? Isn’t it just part of what someone looks like? Like height, or hair color, or oddly shaped nose?

  3. Carol N Wong (@Carolee888) says:

    Thank you for the review. I am going to start reading this book tonight and then do the review. I feel relieved that you found some redeeming qualities in this book. I was getting worried about making it through the book with all the negative reviews it has received so far.

    I wonder if the author is trying to say that black children need to be adopted by black families. I don’t know. I do know some Asian children were adopted by white families and it turned out fine as far as I know,

    Carol Wong

    • Leeswammes says:

      Carol, I must have missed the negative reviews on this book, which I prefer, as I could read it without any prejudices.

      Yes, I liked the story as such, not a page turner, as I said, but a gentle story that I enjoyed.

      I didn’t get the feeling she meant to say black children should be adopted by black people. I think she didn’t like to use the world *black*, as if it’s a dirty word? I don’t know. I would feel very sad if people thought * black* was a dirty word. So, I hope she only meant that it doesn’t matter what colour people are. Except of course, for little Lara it did matter and so the lack of the word *black* or *skin colour* in the book is odd.

  4. Nadine Nys says:

    Thanks for your review, Judith. This subject doesn’t appeal to me, and, besides that, I think I would get irritated by the same things as you. So, not one for me, this book.

  5. Love your honest review. I wonder why the author chose not to address the issue of color or race in the book when it’s obvious it a significant part of the book. I do love the cover though. And I can definitely understand why you didn’t care for the parts you didn’t like. Thanks for sharing with us.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Thanks for your comment, Lena. It doesn’t seem anyone else (that I’ve seen) has picked up on the lack of color references. It’s mysterious.🙂

  6. Actually I thought the non focus on race was in a very unique way to tell the story. Personally I found the approach refreshing as it did not focus so much on the tired, “Why is my skin so dark so I must be less than,” story we have all heard. I know—Race Matters. I have that book as well. But I remember reading the opening and thinking–is it because she is black or another reason. And I loved that because the author pulled something out of me. She gave me A and C and allowed me to fill in the B. Again I liked that.

    If I read one more book from an author who seems to use the Starbucks menu for black folks approach to description (you’ve heard them. Her cafe-mocha latte skin…) I will puke. Bravo Lola for not dumbing down the novel and allowing us to just enjoy the journey with Lara.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Timmothy, thanks for your comment. It was definitely a unique way to approach skin color, but I insist it didn’t seem right for me, in this book. Lara DID think she was less than the others. And why? Because she looked different than the others. How did she look different than the other? Well, her skin color was different. Why beat around the bush rather than speaking it out? I didn’t have this feeling, as you did, that there may be another reason why she felt alien, so that didn’t work for me.

      I don’t know the book Race Matters (is it actually a book or your manner of speech?). I don’t go to Starbucks either, so I’m not quite familiar with the menu there.🙂 I do know that skin color matters to people, for instance, in the former Dutch colony of Curacao (I’m from the Netherlands), the lighter the better. It’s sad, but it’s how people think. Now, the different gradations of black are absolutely not important in this novel, but in the case of black Lara with white class mates: definitely.

  7. bibliosue says:

    I will assume that Lara’s adoptive mother is white? I can see why the absence of any racial discussion would be strange. It would be like the elephant in the room nobody is noticing.

    I don’t know if I’ll read this one, but I liked your review of it.

  8. JoV says:

    I think I understand what you mean. if it’s black go ahead and say it, if it’s white, so be it. Saying it out loud in the book probably makes little Lara more real than trying to skirt around the differences in skin colours and makes little Lara seems like a adult who wants to be politically correct so that she wouldn’t be charged under racial discrimination act.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Ha ha, Jo. That sounds about right. Although is it racial discrimination if you describe a person mentioning their color? A tall, dark-skinned man with glasses, he limped through the room in his three-piece suit – can’t be done? (I just made up that example).

  9. JoV says:

    Well in some instances and depending in what context, mentioning it can get one into trouble… so the examples you have just mentioned is perceived as a compliment and is a commercial line that sells well!

  10. Yvonne says:

    Perhaps I should try and re read every novel I have ever read, written by a white novelist about white and black characters, where white characters are constantly referred to as ‘white’. I have yet to read the book, but I was just thinking that one of the big memories I have of my children growing,up were how they would always come home and talk about the boy with the ‘yellow’ hair, or the girl with ‘the red hair, brown hair etc. Children work out differences in a whole series of ways and not mentioning the word ‘black’ is not skirting the issue. Just as describing someone as a ‘brunette’ is not a way of avoiding saying the person is white. How many times does a word have to be used to make a point. Maybe there was also some ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’ going on.
    The problem is that black people are so often reduced to the colour of their skin, that when someone thinks outside of the box, everyone panics and either makes accusiations of colour blindness or ‘political correctness’
    And by the way I found the reviewers suggestion about not even using the word ‘coloured’ offensive. If the word ‘coloured’ can be used as a description for any human being, then it should be a word to describe all human beings! I mean what the heck does a ‘coloured’ human being actually look like?

    • Leeswammes says:

      Yvonne, thanks for your long and thoughtful comment. I can understand your point completely. Maybe I should have made more clear that we’re talking England in the 1970s here. I asked my husband (who was growing up at that time in that place) and he said: “Oh, absolutely no political correctness at the time. Black people were called all kinds of things”. So, black people would definitely be called black and not something like “that man with the Afro”. By not doing that in the book, the sentiment of the time was not correctly represented, I think.

      Also, of course you’re right that people are often talked about in terms of hair color (or size, or what they wear). But I think if you have only one black person (Lara in the book, for instance) in a surrounding with only white people, you’re not going to say “That girl with the pink top”. Certainly in the 1970s in England, you’d say “That black girl”. You use the distinguishing feature that is most salient.

      In fact, I’m not telling the complete truth here: recently, I was in a room with one black man and a lot of other (white) people. Someone asked me who such-and-such was and I said “That man over there”, pointing towards the black man. She (the questioner) looked at me a bit oddly, and I also felt a bit strange. What I had done, was being politically correct and NOT use the man’s skin color to refer to him. But since the most quick and easy way was to actually refer to skin color (because that was the way this man was standing out the most), it would just have made more sense. By not using this man’s skin color, I was probably making more of an issue of his skin color than if I had.

      Regarding “coloured”, I think maybe the sentence was phrased a bit wrongly. I don’t care one bit that the word “coloured” was not used or whatever. What I meant to say was that on page 222 these three words regarding skin color were used: “black, white, coloured” and on no other page. Hope that’s more clear!

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