Between Friends by Sandra Kitt
(Signet, $6.99, PG) ISBN: 0-451-19184-6
****
Sandra Kitt is a pacesetter.

In the 80s, she became the first African-American author to publish with Harlequin. A decade later, Kitt lent her name and reputation to help Kensington Books launch its multicultural line, Arabesque Books.

Most recently, Sandra Kitt's work has taken another direction. Her last two books explored questions of identity and interracial relationships. Kitt's most recent novel, Between Friends, is a variation on those themes.

Dallas Oliver is the daughter of a white mother and an African-American father. Her parents fell in love and married in the South, then migrated to the North to escape racial prejudice. The external pressures on the marriage were too great and the couple divorced after Dallas' birth. Life as a biracial child wasn't always easy. Where did she "fit in"?

When Dallas was five, her mother died. She was sent to live with her father, stepmother and stepbrother in a New York suburb. Dallas tried to cope and fit in with her new family. Her father was distant; her stepmother was resentful and domineering.

Hers was the first African-American family in the neighborhood and the Olivers were not always welcomed. As a young girl, Dallas developed lifelong friendships with two white females. The first was with grammar school classmate Valerie Holland. The second was with an older neighbor, Lillian Marco, mother of Dallas' constant tormentor and the neighborhood bully, Nicholas.

Between Friends begins with the news that Nick Marco has been killed in an automobile accident. Mourners attended the services out of respect for his parents rather than a sense of loss for Nick.

It has been years since Dallas, a magazine writer who now lives in the city, has had any contact with Nick. Hers are not good memories. Dallas attends the funeral only after Valerie begs her to accompany her.

Alex Marco, a relative Dallas hasn't seen since she was a teenager also attends. As soon as Alex enters the funeral home, a disagreement erupts between him and Lillian's husband, Vin. Dallas breaks up the argument before Lillian is hurt or embarrassed. Valerie introduces herself to Alex.

Both Dallas and Valerie are attracted to Alex. And his relationship with two women begins to test the strength of their close friendship. There are choices to be made all around.

Between Friends is not what it seems. What begins as a likely love triangle with an interracial twist develops into a compelling story about friendship, complex family secrets, identity and second chances.

Kitt's work stands out because Between Friends is – first and foremost – a love story, a story about relationships between and among people. The essence of these relationships often transcend race. However, this is not to say that Between Friends ignores the racial differences between characters. Kitt makes a very strong statement about the racial components of Valerie and Dallas' lifelong friendship. Until challenged by their attraction to Alex, the two women never consciously dealt with their differences because neither was ever threatened by it .

The power of Between Friends is Kitt's ability to examine the complexities of interracial relationships without resorting to stereotypes and clichés or to formulaic plot development that often plague such stories.

Sandra Kitt has once again set the pace.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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