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The House of Eve


The House of Eve

Sadeqa Johnson’s THE HOUSE OF EVE focuses on three years in the lives of two young but very different Black women.

After being denied admittance into the desirable ABC (Alpha Beta Chi) sorority at Howard University, Eleanor Quarles learns "that Negroes separated themselves by color." It is ironic that being Black and attending a Black university did not exempt students from being subject to cruel prejudice based on the color of their skin. Eleanor's roommate, Nadine, belongs to a wealthy Washington, DC family, while Eleanor comes from very modest roots in a small Ohio town. Eleanor's parents scraped and saved; her mother baked and sold pastries, which afforded her the opportunity to attend Howard.

The book’s other protagonist, Ruby Pearsall, is several years younger than Eleanor and lives in Philadelphia. Their stories are told in alternating narratives. Ruby’s is in first person, while Eleanor's is told from her point of view but in third person. The difference doesn't affect how close we feel to each character, but it does make crystal clear from which perspective we are reading.

"THE HOUSE OF EVE is touching and informative, but also detailed and carefully researched. There is a subtle reference to Johnson’s previous novel, YELLOW WIFE, and a sweet, small twist at the conclusion."

Ruby understands that her mother doesn't really love her, yet she yearns for that affection. In fact, until she was 13, she lived with the grandmother who raised her. Her mother had gotten pregnant when she was barely a teenager, and Ruby didn't know that Inez was her mother. That is, until Ruby’s grandmother lost her vision --- and her ability to care for her granddaughter --- due to glaucoma.

Ruby is intelligent. As an eighth grader, she was allowed into a program where a dozen students attended special classes, and two of them would earn a four-year scholarship to college. She knew this was her only chance to get ahead in life and not end up like her grandmother and mother, cleaning houses for white people and barely scraping by. She is determined to become an ophthalmologist and help people like her grandmother so they don't lost their sight. But obstacles like the sweet Jewish white boy, Shimmy, threaten to derail her plans.

As the action moves forward, we get to know both women. While Ruby's life definitely seems more challenging than Eleanor's, we eventually learn that all is not as it appears to be. Eleanor has had her struggles in the past, and even after marrying the scion of a wealthy, distinctive family, she doesn't feel successful and accepted. At the heart of the story is how women --- even girls --- are the ones who suffer from sexual exploitation, sexual violence and sexual misadventure.

As Johnson shows us what life was like before Roe v. Wade, we see what conservatives refer to when they talk about the "market" for adoptive babies. But Ruby and Eleanor are strong, and they are determined to achieve their goals. Each wants to be self-sufficient and feel productive. In this way, the book transcends the subject of skin color to explore what pregnancy means to different women at different times in their lives, depending on their circumstances.

THE HOUSE OF EVE is touching and informative, but also detailed and carefully researched. There is a subtle reference to Johnson’s previous novel, YELLOW WIFE, and a sweet, small twist at the conclusion. The Author's Note is of particular interest. On these pages, she shares the impetus for writing this book, her grandmother's story and the real people whose situations mirror those of the characters who grace these pages. Johnson especially shines a light on those who were forced to give up their babies because of their age, social status, lack of agency, race, sexual abuse or coercion.

It is also somewhat stunning to realize that while much has changed since the time in which THE HOUSE OF EVE is set, there is too much that hasn't. There are a lot of issues --- social, historical and racial --- to consider while pondering this lovely and well-written novel.

Reviewed by Pamela Kramer on February 9, 2023

The House of Eve
by Sadeqa Johnson