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The House of Eve Bets On...

The House of Eve

February 2023

A couple of years ago, Sadeqa Johnson wrote YELLOW WIFE, her first work of historical fiction, which I made a Bets On pick. Her writing of character, place and story was so well done --- and I loved interviewing her about her inspiration for the book. I looked forward to what she would do next…and wow, THE HOUSE OF EVE delivers again. While her previous novel took place during the days of slavery, her latest is set in the 1950s.

The inspiration for this book was personal for Sadeqa. Her grandmother was just 14 when she got pregnant with her mother. Until she was in the third grade, her mother never knew that the woman she thought of as her sister was actually her mother. It got Sadeqa to thinking about what that would have been like for a woman.

Sadeqa looks at the story through the eyes of two women. Eleanor Quarles is attending Howard University. Here, for the first time, she learns that Black people separate themselves by color. There is a level of prejudice about her being “too dark” that she had not known before as she grew up in a small town in Ohio, and it enlightens her in ways she never expected. She falls for a lighter-skinned Black man, and his family, especially his mother, has concerns about her having designs on him. There are more “acceptable” females for him, including a lighter-skinned woman who he was all but promised to from the time he was a child.

The other character is Ruby Pearsall, who is very bright and on track to go to college if she can get a scholarship. Every day she works toward that goal. She grew up living with her grandmother; her mother had her as a teenager and was never really emotionally equipped to be there for her. As her grandmother begins to lose her eyesight, Ruby moves in with an aunt who lives from hand to mouth. She falls in love with a Jewish boy, thus tackling lots of issues that this pairing brings.

Often with dual timelines, people can lose track of whose story they are reading. Here Ruby’s is in the first person, while Eleanor’s is in the third. This clever writing device aids the storytelling.

Both girls become pregnant, with very different circumstances and outcomes. In these days of pre-Roe v. Wade, readers get a look at what pregnancy meant during a time when options were limited --- and how prejudice was such a big part of how these Black women would be seen against the same challenges being presented to white women. There is a thread to Sadeqa’s storytelling that reminds people of how much had changed by the ’50s and how much had stayed the same.

Those who read YELLOW WIFE will see a nod to that book in one place here. It’s a wonderful little Easter egg. THE HOUSE OF EVE is highly recommended for book groups.

The House of Eve
by Sadeqa Johnson