The House of Eve

The House of Eve

by Sadeqa Johnson
Genres: Fiction / Historical / General
Published on February 7, 2023
Pages: 384
Format: eBook Source: Library

“A triumph of historical fiction” (The Washington Post), an instant New York Times bestseller, and a Reese’s Book Club pick, set in 1950s Philadelphia and Washington, DC, that explores what it means to be a woman and a mother, and how much one is willing to sacrifice to achieve her greatest goal.

1950s Philadelphia: fifteen-year-old Ruby Pearsall is on track to becoming the first in her family to attend college. But a taboo love affair threatens to pull her back down into the poverty and desperation that has been passed on to her like a birthright.

Eleanor Quarles arrives in Washington, DC, with ambition and secrets. When she meets the handsome William Pride at Howard University, they fall madly in love. But William hails from one of DC’s elite wealthy Black families, and his parents don’t let just anyone into their fold. Eleanor hopes that a baby will make her finally feel at home in William’s family and grant her the life she’s been searching for. But having a baby—and fitting in—is easier said than done.

With their stories colliding in the most unexpected of ways, Ruby and Eleanor will both make decisions that shape the trajectory of their lives.

This was a very good book but it was one that was difficult for me to read. I have strong feelings about the subject matter and watching the characters make bad choices was getting me anxious and angry.

I’ve never been a person who can understand why anyone would sacrifice their goals for sex. I know that probably makes me the strange one. But watching a character who has a way to go to college if she keeps attending a honors program risk it all to have sex with a guy before reliable birth control, was horrifying to me.

Eleanor gave up her goals for a relationship also. She wanted to be an archivist. She was on her way when she ends up getting engaged to a man whose family and social circle hates her because she is middle class from Ohio and darker skinned than they are. She feels like she has to go along in order to be accepted. It makes her a doormat and I spent most of the book wanting her to tell everyone off.

The book does a great job of comparing and contrasting the different social classes of 1950s Black society. Ruby is poor. Eleanor was considered comfortable in her home town but has moved to D.C. and meets the Black elite. They look down on her as obviously inferior. This confuses her because she has never seen herself in that way. It makes her lose all her confidence.

Ruby is constantly being looked as a potential sexual conquest by men around her. She’s a young teenager but isn’t being allowed to just live her life. This quote hit hard.

I turned my fork over on my plate wondering why it was always my responsibility to worry over what grown men might be thinking. I had been hearing it all my life. Even back to when I lived with Nene, as a flat-chested eight-year-old, I was constantly reminded to be modest. Not to leave the bathroom without my robe on when an uncle or cousin or friend of the family was at the house, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer.

I loved Ruby’s aunt. She is a Black butch lesbian who takes Ruby in whenever Ruby’s mother decides that she is tired of being a mother. That happens often enough that Ruby has a key to her aunt’s house. Her aunt is also always on Ruby’s side in the most practical ways.

When I told Aunt Marie about my decision, she had the owner of Kiki’s draw up a contract stating all the facts and promises we had agreed upon. When she brought the papers home for me to sign, she explained her thinking. “White folk got short memories. This way there ain’t no room for funny business. Ain’t trying to go to jail for kicking a white woman’s ass.”

Ultimately it was the realism of this book that made it hard for me to read. I just wanted better for everyone.