Following the death of the legendary white Hollywood actress Kitty Karr Tate, the world is stunned to learn of her decision to bequeath her multi-million-dollar estate to Elise, Giovanni, and Noele. These young and wealthy black sisters of the St. John family are equally puzzled by this mystery. Still, shortly, one of them will discover something in Kitty’s journal that threatens to rock her world and distort the nature of Kitty’s legacy if exposed.
Did You Hear About Kitty Karr explores the hardships faced by black women during the Jim Crow era and the devastating impact of racism on families and their generations in the United States of America. Having only encountered the concept of ‘passing’ as a central theme in fiction via Passing and The Vanishing Half, I found this novel to have offered a sizzling take.
It’s one thing to show how survival or convenience was an integral part of the reason some light-skinned black people may have decided to pass, but to spin it in such a way that enables the characters to leverage this privilege to support and advance the plight of the members of the black community for the greater good is simply brilliant.
The fact that no one can say for certain that this never happened is yet another excellent example that there is no end to what possibilities writers can achieve via fiction.
This multi-generational saga unfolds through a dual-timeline narrative. The first one, set in 2017, follows the St. John sisters, the discovery of Kitty’s secret, and the resulting impact on their family bond, personal development, and career. The latter thrusts the reader as far back as the 1930s. Here, the history of Kitty’s complicated past unfurls slowly as we witness the peculiar circumstances surrounding her conception, upbringing, coming of age, early career, marriage, and rise to stardom.
This early timeline is the heart of the novel and, thus, the one I resonated with most. In fact, I remember thinking repeatedly that Did You Hear About Kitty Karr would have been perfect if it had started and ended with Hazel and Kitty Karr. Their characters were flawed and very well-developed, and the storyline was gripping. However, as it progressed, I became convinced that it all came together nicely to stretch the suspense and create a heartwarming, compelling, and deeply satisfying read.
Given that the female characters were the driving force in Did You Hear About Kitty Karr, I really loved that the author highlights a number of political and social issues that are often the subject of heated controversy in conversations regarding the female gender, such as misogyny, erasure, and reproductive rights. I also love that it explores the dynamics of female friendships and complicated mother-daughter relationships.
In conclusion, Did You Hear About Kitty Karr is an ambitious debut that would make for an excellent book club discussion. I recommend Did You Hear About Kitty Karr to anyone interested in books about deception, family secrets, old Hollywood glamor, and black history.