Kate Manning’s Whitegirl will break your heart. A stunning debut novel, it reaches within the depths of the soul and reveals a poignancy so sharp, it lingers like a pall over the reader long after the story ends. It wraps itself around your heart.
Told from the first-person perspective of protagonist Charlotte Halsey, the story begins in the present. A former supermodel, Charlotte has cocooned herself in her bedroom because of a recent attack against her that left her voiceless. It is not so much the brutal attack itself that has destroyed her, but the question mark on the identity of the attacker. Though she can not say for sure and might not admit if she could, all signs point to her husband, Milo Robicheaux, as the guilty man.
While the reader deliberates this cryptic beginning, Manning reveals the chain of events that sparked the attack by backpedaling to Halsey’s college years. Blond and beautiful, Charlotte find escape in Cabot College -- escape from her parents, who are cloying religious zealots. Accustomed to being desired, Charlotte skillfully charms her way into champion skier Jack Sutherland’s heart. A torrid but unsatisfying romance ensues until Charlotte escapes her lover with the same desperation that drove her from her parents. She finds freedom and acclaim as a highly sought-after model in New York, but feelings of insecurity continue to haunt her. At the peak of her career, she meets and falls madly in love with Olympic gold-medalist skier and former college mate Milo Robicheaux.
The love that kindles between the two is ordinary in so many ways and it is this ordinariness that speaks to the reader. They bicker, they banter, they love each other passionately. However, Milo is tagged by more than his Olympic fame, he is labeled by his race: African-American. Interwoven with the challenge of loving each other, the racially mixed couple faces an insurmountable obstacle – overcoming prejudice and bigotry in 1980’s New York. For Charlotte, the “race issue” should not figure so prominently in their lives; after all, love overcomes all. But for Milo, a downhill skier accustomed to dodging treacherous obstacles at neck-breaking speeds, the race issue has dominated his entire life. Plagued by their own inner turmoil, the duo attempts to hold fast to their love for each other, despite the outspoken opposition that seeks to annihilate it.
The story that unfolds, then, is about trying to make a relationship work, a relationship that was doomed at its start. Manning tells it with a journalist’s eye for details, details that infuse every line with startling clarity and tender insight. There is no ignoring or casting aside her voice as she unravels the relationship that sparks the undoing of both Charlotte and Milo. She ends as powerfully as she begins, leaving the reader to contemplate what will become of the ill-fated lovers. Whitegirl becomes so much more than a simple story; it is an exploration of the human failings that can rip apart a marriage and a life.