Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Book Review: The House of Eve

By Jami Denison

Intersectionality: the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. (Definition provided by

It’s fair to say that any challenging situation for a woman is much harder for a woman of color. While there are many historical fiction novels about white women who got pregnant before Roe v. Wade, there aren’t many books available about what this time period was like for Black women. In her latest novel, The House of Eve, Sadeqa Johnson offers an important look at this traumatic experience through the eyes of two young Black women in the 1950s whose burdens include more than unplanned pregnancy.

In Philadelphia, 15-year-old Ruby Pearsall is determined to become an ophthalmologist in order to cure her grandmother’s glaucoma. The woman practically raised her, since Ruby was born to 15-year-old Inez, who was always more interested in her latest boyfriend than caring for her daughter. And when Inez catches her boyfriend assaulting Ruby, she blames the girl and kicks her out. This starts a series of events which leads Ruby into meeting and falling in love with a Jewish boy bound for college in New York. While Shimmy helps Ruby study and encourages her on her quest to win a college scholarship, Ruby knows their love can’t last.

In Washington, D.C., Eleanor Quarles is a freshman at Howard University working toward her dream of becoming a library archivist when she meets Howard medical student William Pride. William is very well-named—he is the pride of an elite, wealthy light-skinned Black family, and Eleanor is just too dark and country for the likes of them and their friends. 

When both women become unexpectedly pregnant, their separate paths put them on a collision course. Will the women still be able to achieve their dreams, or will these babies permanently derail their hopes?

In many ways, Ruby’s and Eleanor’s stories are familiar. In other ways, they’re unique. In many painful scenes, Ruby is treated like dirt by her mother, her boyfriend’s mother, and strangers on the street. And the prejudice Eleanor endures, while not as horrific as Ruby’s, is shocking nonetheless. Eleanor dreams of going to Howard as a safe place for Black people; there she is judged by other Black people for being too black. Both protagonists are easy to root for, but they are not without flaws, which makes their stories that much more real.

The pacing in The House of Eve is slow, and with the plot points well set up, the writing shines in the character development and relationships. The book will be compared to Brit Bennett’s The Mothers, but some of the soapy twists reminded me of Eileen Goudge’s Garden of Lies.

While I was rooting hard for both Ruby and Eleanor, I did find the ending to be somewhat unrealistic. On the other hand, Johnson ends the book at the perfect point for a sequel. I hope she writes one—both women’s stories deserve to continue.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Sadeqa Johnson:

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Such a good story. I agree, it does need a sequel. I wanted to know more about what happened with both women, but especially Ruby. Is she happy with accomplishing her goals? Does she ever connect with Shimmy again? Has she found love again? So many unanswered questions!