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BookBrowse Reviews We Are Not Like Them by Christine Pride, Jo Piazza

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We Are Not Like Them by Christine Pride, Jo Piazza

We Are Not Like Them

A Novel

by Christine Pride, Jo Piazza
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  • First Published:
  • Oct 5, 2021
  • Paperback:
  • Aug 2022
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A powerful story of friendship set against a backdrop of racial tension.

Newcomer Christine Pride joins veteran author Jo Piazza for We Are Not Like Them, a novel exploring friendship and race set in Philadelphia. Protagonists Riley and Jen have been friends for 30 years, since meeting in preschool and forming a near-instant bond. The two women couldn't be more different; Riley is an unmarried Black news reporter who has her eyes on the anchor chair of her local station, while Jen is a white receptionist at a dental clinic, married to a Philadelphia police officer. The pair have always considered themselves best friends, but their relationship is put to the test when Jen's husband shoots an innocent, unarmed Black teenager and Riley is chosen to cover the incident and its aftermath (an assignment she feels will bring her one step closer to her dream job).

Chapters alternate between these two first-person narrators, with each woman giving voice to her thoughts and feelings as she reacts to events transpiring around her. Although the book has an interesting plot that deals with the shooting itself, its main focus is on Riley and Jen's inner turmoil as each struggles to understand her friend's point of view. Through their eyes, readers are asked to contemplate questions about friendship and family, love and loss, racial equity and culpability for racial tension.

The authors are precise in their depictions of each character's concerns, and each woman's voice feels authentic. Jen, for example, grapples with her husband's career choice, thinking, "I will never get used to the constant, relentless fear. Every day Kevin puts on his uniform and walks out the door is a day I wonder if he's going to make it home." When Jen says a conversation isn't about race, Riley thinks, "Are you kidding me? It's always about race, Jen. That's what I wanted to scream back at her. She may have the luxury of pretending that it isn't, but I don't. Her naivete was stunning." Each woman is under extreme stress, and the tension is palpable through every page of the novel. Their anxieties and their reactions to the media storm around them are portrayed brilliantly; the two are so realistic that I found myself in complete sympathy with each, as if Jen and Riley were my own close friends.

Pride, who is Black, and Piazza, who is white, present a relatively balanced view of how people of different races might approach a tragedy such as this one. I appreciated their nuanced portrayal of Jen, who comes across as a sweet, well-meaning person who is clueless about her friend's experiences of racism. Riley is less complex but no less compelling; the shooting and her coverage of it force racial identity to the forefront of her contemplations. She sees Jen primarily as a white person, someone who doesn't comprehend how much she's benefitted from her skin color. It's Riley's narration that lingers in the mind, particularly her descriptions of daily microaggressions she experiences (like a waiter who ignores her, incorrectly assuming Jen is the person who'll leave the tip – something Jen misses entirely). While both points of view resonated deeply with me, it was Riley's that forced me, as a white woman, to reevaluate my thoughts and actions towards people of color.

Somewhat less successful is the portrayal of the book's secondary characters, in particular Jen's family, who come across as formulaic racists with little sense of accountability or sympathy regarding the death of a young Black man. Riley's family and co-workers, too, aren't completely fleshed out. Her grandmother is better developed yet still something of a stock character — the wise woman on her deathbed. And, there's a romance between Riley and a white man toward the end of the book that brings her clarity about her friendship with Jen, but this relationship seems forced and lacks the depth of the rest of the book.

With increased awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement, many books have been released in the past couple of years about racial injustice. We Are Not Like Them is a fantastic novel for those who want to further explore the subject, as it encourages readers to think critically and consider racial issues from multiple perspectives. I highly recommend it for most audiences, teens through adults. It's also a novel I found myself eager to discuss with others; I think it would make a perfect book group selection.

Reviewed by Kim Kovacs

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in January 2022, and has been updated for the December 2022 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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