The Color of a Lie / Kim Johnson / Book Review


That's the thing about being in your own skin: nothing else fits the same.

Calvin knows how to pass as White. He's done it before to snag food from diners where he and his friends weren't allowed. But moving to a Whites Only suburb is an entirely different ballgame.

Moving here wasn't exactly Calvin's choice. It was his dad's decision, in response to... what happened back home in the city. And hiding your true identity, Calvin quickly learns, is exhausting. Nobody can know him, not the real Calvin, and everyone who gets close feels like a threat. He can only guess what they'd do if they found out.

As much as his father would like him to embrace their new white lifestyle and move on, Calvin can't deny who he is. And there's trouble brewing already. When Calvin catches wind of a school integration movement taking root just under the noses of town leadership, he can't help but get involved... even if that means risking the life his family has built.



I really, really liked this book. Though I have a few nitpicky problems when it comes to immersion here, I think those problems can ultimately be forgiven due to the audience this book is written for. This book dives into an under-explored history that deserves more time in the limelight, and I love that.


Passing Kim Johnson takes a very careful and very nuanced look at passing, and I appreciate the complex picture built here. Calvin has, in the past, used passing as a game, something he could play with for the benefit of his friends and his community. But in this new, White-Only neighborhood, that kind of fun element of passing gets replaced by a very strong sense of guilt and dread. It's not passing to grab some food from the diner to split with your buddies. It's passing as a way to move up in life, and that's something Calvin's not sure he wants, even if it's to his benefit.

Under-Explored There are a lot of niches of history that get glossed over in the retelling, and I really appreciate a book that dives into that not-in-the-history-books history. I really liked Johnson's attention to detail, and I liked learning more about things like the Green Book--a fundamental part of travel for Black Americans in 1955. Along with sundown towns and not-spelled-out-on-paper Whites Only towns, this is history that should be explored more, especially because the history books don't want to include it.

Nerve Wracking This whole book is laced with a sense of anxiety, because the scheme Calvin's father has concocted is so fragile. One slip-up, one hint of suspicion, and things will go very bad for Calvin's family. Calvin isn't fully on board, and while anyone can respect his need to live authentically, each time he steps out of line, it just ups the ante that much more. The fear of a system rigged against you really just shines strong in this book, highlighted by the casual racism of Calvin's new suburban home.


I mentioned it above, and I'm sure it will be strikingly clear here. My cons are really quite nitpicky. The fact that Calvin's voice feels a little too 21st century isn't ultimately a major detractor. It was something I noticed, but it wasn't glaring. And it makes sense for the intended audience. But it's still something to note, that our narrator doesn't quite feel 1955. Too Modern

With the contemporary sort of narrative voice in mind, there are a few anachronisms that slip into this book--social anachronisms, mostly. Making a casual gay joke in the 1950s doesn't feel like something that would go well socially, you know? Not a major problem, again, but there were a few times where I just felt like these characters might not actually, you know, be living and breathing 1955 Anachronisms

The biggest question I had (and I do mean this genuinely) that pulled me out of the narrative for a good half hour of research was the mention of Lord of the Flies. I couldn't find a definitive answer on this, so maybe American schools really were teaching LOTF the year after it was published, but that feels unlikely to me. Within a few years, sure--jump on that wagon, right? But it feels like such a quick adoption, even for a school with all the funding they could want. Funding doesn't mean much when the book has barely had time to trickle across the Atlantic. Really?



Those who love Richard Wright's Native Son should dive into this book of heavy compromises and crimes that feel less-than-criminal. Those who adore books that center Black voices and Black experiences like The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas should definitely dive into this bit of often overlooked history.


Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Date: June 11, 2024
Series: N/A
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Note: I was provided with an ARC by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions here are my own.


  1. Hiding your true identity like that would be exhausting! This book sounds really good.

  2. Sounds great ..but yes I get the whole narrator did not feel like the era thing

  3. I can feel the anxiety of the characters hiding their identities even in your review! This sounds like a wonderful read.

  4. Great review! I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it. I can tell the author did a good job with the nerve wracking aspect!

  5. Yes, Lord of the Flies was on our curriculum, in fact I re-read it 3 times with my kids when it was their required reading. Great review!

  6. Hiding your identity would be both frightening and tiring. It sounds like a good story set in an interesting point in time.

  7. I had never really thought of the concept of passing until I read The Vanishing Half. This sounds very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  8. This sounds like such an interesting and thoughtful book. Thanks for putting it on my radar!

  9. This sounds like a fascinating read that brings to light an under-explored part of history. I love how you highlighted the nuanced portrayal of passing and the tension Calvin faces in his new environment.


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