Picks and Pans Review: Black Ice

updated 08/05/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/05/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Lorene Cary

Cary was a sophomore at a Philadelphia public high school, working at a dime store to make extra money, when she learned the exclusive all-male prep school St. Paul's was expanding its population, recruiting blacks and girls, offering scholarships.

"I had to go to St. Paul's," Cary writes in this brave, moving account of her years at the Concord, N.H., school, 1972-74. "I had been raised for it. Why else had my mother personally petitioned the principal of Lea School so that I could attend the integrated showcase public grade school.... Why else had I learned to hold myself to standards that were always just beyond my reach, if not to learn early and indelibly that we'd have to do twice the work to get half the credit?"

It is always hard to be an adolescent; to be black and female in an antagonistic environment, this book suggests, is traumatic. Cary feels she must run faster, jump higher, find a role in the "integration, the moral transformation, no less, of America."

Yet she resents having to have those feelings. When white housemates say, " 'It doesn't matter to me if somebody's white or black or green or purple. I mean, people are just people,' " Cary is not reassured. "I didn't know why they always chose green and purple to dramatize their indifference, but my ethnicity seemed diminished when the talk turned to Muppets."

During Cary's stay at St. Paul's—she would return as a teacher—she fails calculus, is the victim of an alleged date rape (she tells no one), steals small sums of money from housemates, is elected class vice president and tries, with touching fervor, to figure out her role. Cary's is an exhilarating, disquieting journey that readers will find provocative. (Knopf, $20)

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