The Color Midnight Made

A street-wise 10-year-old confronts life in his decaying Alameda neighborhood in this convincing debut novel

By Andrew Winer
Washington Square Press (2002), $24

Andrew Winer's debut novel doesn't start off as a page-turner, but readers may find its quiet pace and realistic look at contemporary childhood enchanting. The book's refreshing take on growing up in the decaying urban streets of Alameda -- from the point of view of a 10-year-old -- made me feel nostalgic, even if it forced me to revisit a world most of us fled willingly (oh, the trials of the fifth grade).

Conrad "Con" Clay, the pre-adolescent, street-wise hero of the story, is a likable little scruff. He confronts issues of loss, family dysfunction, death, and the introduction of sex essentially alone, while at the same time trying to establish a rep among the homies. Winer does a wonderful job remaining devoted to the voice of Conrad without giving him an adult's hindsight. The boy's conclusions about life -- right or wrong -- sound honest.

Although promoted as a book about race relations, The Color Midnight Made is less about color (or the title character, for that matter) than about a preteen's ability to come to terms with the loneliness of change. In view of the fact that Midnight plays only a minor role in the book, I found the jacket copy somewhat misleading. What's being promoted doesn't matter to the story. Lines like "As Conrad puts his trust in ... Midnight, his life changes in a way he could never have imagined" (on the front flap) made me wonder if the person who wrote the summary actually read the book. If you're anything like me and are inclined to read the jacket to decide whether you'd be interested, you may want to skip that step this time. Instead, I suggest you defer to that old adage, and don't judge this book by its cover.

 
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