This book is basically the story of two different men, Ben and Bill, in the same law firm—both in the running to become a partner and both being handed two very difficult cases to handle as a test of their abilities.
Ben is from an affluent black family and has grown up being called an “oreo” (black on the outside, but white on the inside). His girlfriend, Becky, is a white woman while his best friend, Gabby, a black woman, has her own issues, especially about Ben dating “away from his own kind.”
Bill, on the other hand, is a white man who grew up the only white child in a black neighborhood. He’s dating Ebony, a black police officer. Because of Bill’s background, he often uses slang and expressions from his neighborhood – Ben has issues with this, feeling that Bill is trying to just put on a black skin.
Black and White does an excellent job exploring prejudice and racism – it is so very much prevalent in this story. Not one person escapes it – Bill probably comes the closest to being color-blind in this respect. He is caught in a tough situation. Not only does he want to become partner so he can propose to Ebony and provide for her, his mother is desperately ill—he wants to take care of her. He is chosen to defend a white ballplayer who is accused of raping a black stripper.
The focus of the story is on the law cases and how the lawyers approach them as well as how the cases effect not only the lawyers but those close to them.
There were a couple of quibbles with this book that irritated me and kept the review from being a solid 5. The editor in me cringed every time the author turned black and white into proper adjectives, i.e. (from the blurb) ” When the prestigious law firm of Wayne, Rothstein, and Lincoln catches two major cases—a rape case where a White NBA star allegedly raped a Black stripper, and a murder case where a Black rapper allegedly killed a gay couple and two policemen—Bill O’Neil and Ben Turner are tasked to handle these racially charged litigations.” Also, there were a few instances in the story where the main characters had flashbacks to their lives as kids. I understand that the author wanted to show how they got to be the people they are today, but to this reader the long passages of flashback took me out of the story. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but there was also an incident during Ben and Becky’s dinner with her parents and their friends that didn’t quite ring true to me… I was completely and utterly blindsided by Ben’s actions in that instance.
Apart from those few things, I really enjoyed the storyline and the way the court cases worked out. Bill was by far my favorite character in this book. He’s the one that seemed the most sincere to me. I could definitely could see this as a movie … actually given the ending, it would make a very neat series.
Editor's note: This article was originally published at Long and Short Reviews. It has been republished with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.