greenBy Sam Graham-Felsen, author of Green (Random House, January 2018)

In March of 2007, I left my life as a political journalist in New York and moved to Chicago to work as the chief blogger on Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. I was responsible for telling the story of the movement behind Obama, and I spent a lot of time traveling the country talking to people from all races and walks of life. I met veterans, farmers, college students, working class folks from the Rust Belt, many of them former Republicans—most of whom had never been politically engaged until Obama came along. It was thrilling to meet so many people who believed, as I did, in the vision of a united and reconciled America. And it seemed, after Obama was elected, that our country truly had turned the page.

Shortly after Obama became president, however, a different reality set in. Far from becoming a “post-racial” society, America felt more divided than it had been in decades. I wondered if this campaign that had changed my life and so many others’ too, was just a blip, an aberration—if America was intractably divided.

Around this time, I realized I wanted to write a novel about race in America. The book I wanted to write would be drawn from my experience in sixth grade, where I was one of the only white kids in a mostly black public school. I hoped, that by revisiting this formative period, by delving as deeply as I could into my own story, I might be able to understand my country a little better too.

My year in sixth grade was an initially difficult, but ultimately, deeply rewarding experience. Although I was mocked, bullied, and even had a knife pulled on me in my early days, eventually I found acceptance and made powerful friendships with my classmates. Most importantly, I gained an invaluable perspective that shaped the rest of my life: what it felt like to be, temporarily, in the minority. I could not have written Green without the insights I gained about race, privilege, and inequality in the aftermath extraordinary year.

Green is the story of the friendship between Dave Greenfeld, the awkward and anxious white boy at the fictional Martin Luther King Middle, and Marlon Wellings, a nerdy but confident black kid Dave meets in school, who happens to live in the housing project down the block from Dave’s house. Dave and Mar are both misfits in their own ways, failing to fit into the categories society has assigned to them—and this is part of what makes their friendship so instant and electric.

The larger story arc of Green is about whether Dave and Mar’s friendship can survive in the segregated and unequal world they live in. Can they remain loyal to one another in spite of the forces that threaten to pull them apart? Can they exist as equals in their relationship, when one of them enjoys so many social advantages over the other? Can they remain true to themselves and resist the binary thinking that labels certain activities and attitudes “black” and “white,” or “soft” and “hard”?

My hope is that Dave and Mar’s story will feel universal and urgent, especially to younger readers. All of us have felt like outsiders at one point or another, all of us have struggled with questions of what it means to develop an authentic identity. And in our increasingly diverse society, more and more of us are building relationships with those who have different levels of privilege and access than we do.

Green is a coming-of-age novel, but it’s also a novel about the coming of awareness—about how race shapes and distorts our world, about the consequences of privilege and power, and about how, in spite of these challenges, we might learn to live, and thrive, together.