We Are Not Like Them by Christine Pride and Jo Piazza was a buzzy book this fall and one of the ones I wanted to get to before the year was up. It’s a novel told in alternating chapters about two friends who are connected through a police shooting of an unarmed Black 14 year-old in Philadelphia. Jenny, the white wife of the police officer, and Riley, a Black newscaster, have been best friends since elementary school. But the shooting puts an incredible strain on their friendship, as Jenny lives through the fallout of her husband’s actions and Riley is assigned to cover the case.
Why I picked it up: I’ve been hearing good things about We Are Not Like Them for months now and really wanted to read it. I got an ARC a while back and finally got to it.
We Are Not Like Them grew on me as it went along. At first, I was frustrated by what I thought were missed opportunities for these characters to to try to find common ground and have real conversations about race and responsibility. They seemed to be falling into stereotypical roles that showed little nuance. But as the chapters went on, I became more impressed with how the authors handled Jenny and Riley’s interactions. Jenny, in particular, seemed to have a hard time seeing beyond her own (admittedly difficult) circumstances and appreciating how her husband’s actions were symptomatic of a much larger problem, whereas Riley’s impatience with Jenny’s myopia suggested her own lack of sensitivity. Over time, the two became less entrenched, even if they couldn’t ultimately see exactly eye to eye.
Pride and Piazza – who are Black and white authors, respectively – did a good job here. The book didn’t seem disjointed or inconsistent, even though it was written by two different people. It all felt pretty realistic too. If the key to improving our racism problem is understanding other people better, this book is a good start because it addresses how difficult it is to do that. I’m not sure that it forged terribly new or unchartered ground, but it was a thoughtful read.
I listened to We Are Not Like Them on audio. Like the book, the audio has alternating narrators covering the Riley and Jenny parts. I liked the Riley sections (narrated by Shayna Small) better, maybe because the narrator of Jenny’s chapters – Marin Ireland – infused her with an anger and dismissiveness that exacerbated (or caused?) my impatience with that character. Perhaps if I had read the book in print I would have liked it a little better. Overall, though, We Are Not Like Them was a pretty good read and I’d recommend it.
We Are Not Like Them was the 58th book of 2021.