The Gilded Years [Book Review] and Black History Month Reading Recommendations

February 2, 2018

As the calendar reveals February’s focus on Black History Month, I’m eager to recommend some compelling reads! 

Linking up today with Modern Mrs Darcy: Quick Lit February.

The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe

The Gilded Years cover (purple background with white wording and a white image of a university style building)

One title that I read a few years ago that might not be on your radar is The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe.


This story shares the critical and compelling experiences of Anita Hemmings and her dream of attending an exclusive school for women, Vassar College, in the late 1890s. To accomplish this extraordinary feat and pursue her chance for a better life, Anita must pass for white. It is interesting to me how her family and community support her in the implementation of her decision and work to protect her as she lives it out. At first, Anita maintains a distance from her college peers. However, as the years pass and Anita becomes friends with her socialite roommate from a prominent family in New York, the risk of discovery grows. Can she maintain her assumed identity? Will she graduate?

The Choice:

For me, the most interesting part of the story is the tension that develops between Anita and one of her dear friends who decides to live fully as an African-American, embrace her ethnic identity and heritage, and openly fight for equal rights. Which one of the young women has chosen the best path? Both decisions are difficult in their own ways and filled with sacrifices and joys. Through their two stories, the reader is presented with two viewpoints and experiences. What would you or I have done given that choice? Which choice helped further equal treatment for African-Americans? Was Anita’s choice a setback for African Americans? Or did she have every right to think of her own life first? Did her success as a student help the African-American cause by proving that an African-American can compete equally at Vassar?

Bottom Line:

The Gilded Years is a compelling, emotional, and captivating story that addresses strong themes of hope, sacrifice, betrayal, loyalty, family, taking risks, life choices, and friendship. It’s an important, inspiring, and memorable read. It would generate an excellent book club discussion and make a great movie!


I’m enthusiastically recommending The Gilded Years for readers looking for an inspirational and interesting read in celebration of Black History Month, for readers who enjoy compelling stories about strong, brave, independent women, for book clubs, and for readers who enjoy diverse reads and stories written from a different perspective.

Amazon Rating (February): 4.2 Stars

My Rating: 4 stars


Gilded Years

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Karin Tanabe

Karen TanabeKarin Tanabe is a fiction writer and former Politico reporter whose writing has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, and The Washington Post among many other publications. Before turning to fiction, Karin worked as a journalist covering politics and celebrities. She has made frequent appearances on Entertainment Tonight, Inside Edition and CNN. A graduate of Vassar College, she lives in Washington D.C.

Additional Reading Recommendations

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham (historical fiction, YA)

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom (historical fiction)

Glory Over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom  (historical fiction)
*This is an interesting story as it also deals with the main character passing as white.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (historical fiction, family saga)

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (historical fiction)

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (contemporary fiction, YA)

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult (contemporary fiction)

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M Draper (middle grade historical fiction selection)

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (nonfiction)

We Beat the Street: How a Friendship Pact Led to Success by Sampson Davis  (middle grade, biography/memoir)

There are so many titles; these are a few that I’ve read and can highly recommend. Can you add to these recommendations in the comments?

Happy Reading Book Buddies!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Let’s Discuss!

If you are an #OwnVoices author and have reviewed this book, could you leave a link to your review in the comments?

If you were an African-American, would you have made the decision to pass as white to take advantage of a path to help you pursue your dreams? If you are an African American, would you have passed as white in the late 1890s? What do you think of individuals who made this choice?

Will you be seeking out a certain book to read during Black History Month? Or do you have recommendations?

What are you reading this week?


    • Thanks for stopping in to comment Becca and for the link! I’ve read 2 of the 3 (The Help and Henrietta Lacks)…..I’ll definitely check out the 3rd. Thanks for the recommendations! Happy reading!

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