In the early 1980s, two girls meet in a ballet class in northwest London. Tracey is tough, fleet-footed and defiant, with a mother who indulges her love of pageantry and a father who is in and out of jail. The other girl, our nameless narrator, is cautious and thoughtful, raised by an autodidactic mother with strong feminist, left-wing leanings. Despite their disparate backgrounds, they are immediately drawn to each other by their skin colour—two brown girls in a sea of white—and their love of old-time musicals, and soon find themselves fast, if uneasy, friends. Growing up, the girls put on identities as one might try on costumes, Tracey with her precocious ways and preternatural talent for dance, and the narrator with customary uncertainty and angst, until an unforgivable act on Tracey's part drives a permanent wedge between them. Twenty years later, the narrator finds herself in the orbit of a pop singer named Aimee. She must navigate a world where selfhood is not only a personal choice but also something the world foists upon you, and she wrestles with accepting her roots and the relationships of her youth in the process. This new novel by Zadie Smith is a deft study of identity, coming of age, feminism, race, class and family that treads on weighty issues with the precision of a dancer and the staying power of a classic Hollywood movie.
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