Wednesday, September 21, 2016

#TBRChallenge Reading: Adam and Eva by Sandra Kitt

2016 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: Adam and Eva
Author: Sandra Kitt
My Categories: Romance, Contemporary (1984)
Wendy Crutcher's Category: Off-Theme (Yay, freedom!)

Adam and Eva is a Harlequin American romance published in 1985 and is one of the early books by an African American author featuring African American characters.

The story begins with Eva on the plane to the Caribbean island of St. Thomas from New Jersey. Her seatmate is a ten-year-old girl, Diane, who's a savvier traveler than her. Eva and Diane strike up a friendship, which is fun for Eva on one hand, while also painful for her. Her daughter, Grace, would've been a year older than Diane had she lived. There'd been a fire in their home in NJ, and Grace and Eva's husband, Kevin, had perished in it.

On the ferry from the main island, St. Thomas, to St. John, Eva meets Adam, Diane's father. Adam's divorce from Diane's mother was a bitter one and he deeply resents the short court-mandated two weeks a year he gets with Diane.

On the ferry, Eva is taken aback by Adam's immediate and obvious dislike of her and his rudeness. She's used to soft-spoken, soft-mannered people from her mother to her former husband and her coworkers. However, Diane's obvious happiness with and devotion to her father softens Eva's impression of him.

Throughout that first part of the book as Eva gets to understand the different facets of Adam, his relationship with his daughter features largely in Eva's behavior towards him. She plays the role of peacemaker and facilitator in moving their relationship forward to a closer connection.

I found this look into a 1980s contemporary book with its 1980s gender role norms interesting. There's a fledgling bid for autonomy and independence on Eva's part but it's perfunctory at best. The story's focus is on a strong, overpowering, brusque male figure coupled with a domestic, soft-hearted foil for him.

It is told from Eva's POV, so we see Adam only through her eyes. As a result, he comes across badly in the first half and improves in the second. I found it interesting to read a story where the developing relationship was shown only in one POV. We see how she comes to mean more and more to him by how her feelings for him change, how she perceives his changing behavior, and her interpretation of it all without knowing what he's thinking.

I never warmed to Adam. I have no patience with overbearing, conceited men who need to be appeased at every turn by the woman. His disrespect towards his current mistress further endeared him less to me.

"Eva, you aren't like Lavona Morris," he informed her distinctly. "And I won't treat you as if you are."

That begged the question: How is he going to treat Eva? OK, so not like a casual woman to spend an occasional night with...but then how? And will he talk about her disdainfully behind her back to someone else?

Looking at the story as whole, I really liked how Kitt dealt with the issue of race by not making a big deal out of it. We're given occasional mentions of skin color, hair styles, eye color, and tanned shades. However, Kitt doesn't make race a centerpiece to the story. Adam and Eva are two ordinary people, who're leading their ordinary lives, and who now fall in love. And that is how it should be.

Sunita's review mentions this quote, which is emblematic of how race is looked at in the story:

Eva took a moment to look around the small craft, noticing the mixture of people. There were those who were obviously just arriving for the start of vacation, with their pale untouched skins, and those who lived on these islands with their beige, brown, and black skin tones.

And then Eva moves on to notice other things.

In her review, Liz McCausland says, "There’s a scene in a ruined sugar plantation, but neither character thinks about the enslaved Africans who would have worked there."

To me, this was on par with the characters' personalities. In a scene with a cabdriver from St. Thomas, he mentions that July 3 is Emancipation Day. And like a twit, Eva asks, "Like Fourth of July?" And he explains that Emancipation Day is to celebrate freedom from slavery by Denmark. And she makes no remark to that. She's clearly not a deep thinker, and neither is Adam, so for those two characters not to reflect on slavery on their visit to the sugar plantation seems natural to them.

However, Eva does notice some of the cultural differences between NJ and the Caribbean. For example, she has to learn to ignore catcalls in the market streets from young men. She learns to appreciate the cuisine and to relax into the carnival festivities.

One of the quibbles I had with this book was how the kids were depicted in the story. Ten-year-old Diane was shown to be so immature at times and so mature at others. She can't pronounce or know the meaning of the word "pollute" but she can travel all the way from NJ to the Caribbean on her own. Gail was said to be learning to ride a trike at five. Romance novels seems to have a lot of trouble getting children right. It's a rare book where I find them age-appropriate.

I have talked a lot about the problems in the story, but the question remains: Did I enjoy any of it? I did. I liked seeing where Eva and Adam started and how they slowly came together. For a short book, the relationship's developed leisurely, and I always appreciate watching two people fall in love, rather being told, voilĂ , there're in love.


Bona Caballero said...

This book has been in my TBR list for years! I haven't read it yet, so thank you for the review, as it gives me an idea about what to expect when I read it. Although your review expresses mixed feelings, I still find this book very interesting. Perhaps the only problem is that it was written in the 80s and it shows. If the same plot were to be written nowadays, all those details you mention would have been written in a different way. So, still on my TBR list.

Keira Soleore said...

Bona, that's exactly how I looked at it. Even after reading Liz's review, I was intrigued enough by the story to pick it up and find out for myself what I thought of it. The setting, the characters, and the 1980s gender norms all make for an interesting book despite its modern shortcomings.