TBR Challenge: Adam and Eva, by Sandra Kitt

The August TBR Challenge theme is “Old School,” a book published 10 or more years ago. “Old School” (or at least “Old Skool”) is a term I associate with historical romance for some reason, but having finished Dunnett’s Game of Kings just now (yes! I did it!), I wasn’t ready for more historical fiction. Then I remembered Sandra Kitt’s Adam and Eva, in my TBR because of Sunita’s review–which turns out to date from last year’s Old School month.

Published in 1984, this was the first Harlequin category romance by an African-American featuring African-American characters. I didn’t like it quite as much as Sunita did, but it did hold my interest, both because of that place in romance history and for its own sake. That in itself struck me as an “old school” feature, because I find that many newer romances aim at hitting a reader in the feels and have little to offer someone who doesn’t connect emotionally. That wasn’t true of Adam and Eva.

At 29, Eva has rebuilt her life following the deaths of her husband and daughter in a house fire. Now she is embarking on a vacation to St. John in the US Virgin Islands. On the plane, Eva meets Diane Maxwell, a little girl about the age her own daughter would have been, who is going to spend two weeks with her father, a marine biologist. A big, strong, hot, gruff and intimidating marine biologist. (Was naming the  characters in a story set in a kind of paradise “Adam and Eva” Kitt’s nod to the “first-ness” of her book? Probably not, but it’s not an allusion that is picked up in the novel and I did wonder….)

Although the book takes place in just a few weeks, making this a whirlwind romance in real life, its pace is leisurely. Both Adam, whose divorce has left him bitter, and Eva, still grieving, are reluctant to begin a relationship. I liked the slow development, the advance and retreat, of their interactions, and the way Diane is a person they both care about rather than a plot moppet. There are other things I liked less: that Eva seems so inexperienced after several years of happy marriage to her high school sweetheart (like, she’s shocked by being on top during sex), and that the passion Adam awakens in her frightens her. Those elements felt kind of formulaic-Old School, although Kitt made them plausible for these characters.

The way that Kitt handled her characters’ race also struck me as somewhat Old School–by which I mean different from how an author would likely approach them today; I don’t mean this as a criticism, it just interested me. From the cover of the book, we’re well aware that these characters are African-American, and there are reminders all the way through in references to skin color and hairstyles, to Adam and his first wife dreaming of being the first black husband-wife marine biology team, or to Howard being mentioned alongside Georgetown as a place Eva could study law in DC. Race isn’t an issue in the book, just part of who the characters are.

Eva enjoys being in a new place, the first time she’s been out of New Jersey, without in any way exoticizing St. John or its residents, and that was entirely refreshing. The locals are people with whom she interacts, not colorful natives. But I was struck by how little culture there is in the book, especially considering it is set on a Caribbean island. I wondered, for instance, if either Adam or Eva had Caribbean heritage, a question that isn’t raised. There’s a scene in a ruined sugar plantation, but neither character thinks about the enslaved Africans who would have worked there. I think a 2016 book (at least one by an African-American author) would be unlikely to elide that history. Perhaps authors would feel freer now to include some reflection on this history. Perhaps they’re more likely to feel they should. Or perhaps Kitt chose to give her characters an island holiday in which they didn’t have to think about such things, the most “romantic fantasy” element of the book. In any case, having discovered that Kitt wrote a sequel featuring Diane in 2010, I’m curious to read it and see whether her approach to such questions is different.

An interesting classic with a well-drawn setting, realistic characters and a focus on the heroine, well worth reading.





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9 Responses to TBR Challenge: Adam and Eva, by Sandra Kitt

  1. Sunita says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed it! Your points about the authorial and textual self-consciousness/self-awareness of the race aspects in 1984 vs. today are thought-provoking, especially the question of whether African-Americans on holiday in the Virgin Islands would think about slavery in 1984. I supposed some would and maybe some wouldn’t, if they are like my relatives and friends, at least some of whom wandered through the British Museum looking at artifacts from the colonies without thinking of the conditions under which they were acquired. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Harlequin did not want attention drawn to slavery and oppression issues, either. That said, I agree with you that one of the pleasures of the book was the way it was treated black characters and their cultural context as the default for the story, if that makes sense. If there were non-black characters, they were just *there*, not inserted to provide touchstones for non-black readers.

  2. KeiraSoleore says:

    Both your review and Sunita’s review as well as Sunita’s comments above make me want to read this. I’m so glad that this book doesn’t exoticize the characters or the setting. And I’m OK with them not thinking about slaves or the history of the island. It seems normal to me that not everyone is concerned or should be concerned about such things. One does not always travel thinking about all the ramifications for the people who came before.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Oh, I’m OK with them not thinking about those things. I just think it is a choice an author is less likely to make today. But maybe I am influenced by Twitter conversations about whether plantation tours do a good enough job providing historical context on slavery, making it hard for me to imagine writing black characters who weren’t conscious of it. If you read it, I look forward to your thoughts!

  3. Kaetrin says:

    I was curious about the book featuring Diane written in 2010 so I looked it up. And it features a different hero so obviously something’s happened to Adam. So then I had a sad. LOL

  4. Janine Ballard says:

    It’s so good to see a new post from you, Liz. I still remember Sunita’s review of this book; her description of it sounded so appealing.

    Sunita could be right about Harlequin’s role in the eliding of the history of slavery in the Caribbean. Back in the late 1980s I sent away for the guidelines to one of the Harlequin lines. I don’t recall all of them so many years later, but I remember that they advised steering away from hot button political issues.

    Kitt has a later book, an interracial romance titled The Color of Love, that does deal more overtly with racism as an issue, to judge from reviews. There’s an A review of it at AAR, and their database says it was published in 1995.

  5. Dorine says:

    What a great find and discussion. Now I’m curious about the difference with the 2010 book as well.

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