April Sinclair picks up right where she left Stevie, the protagonist of Coffee Will Make You Black. Stevie graduated high school in the spring of 1971 amid the rise of the Black Power movement and unspoken investigations of her sexuality. Not sure of her place in things, but certain that she doesn’t like labels or blanket statements, Stevie heads off to college in middle-of-nowhere Illinois to take advantage of a full-ride scholarship to a college with 500 black students on a campus of 20,000.
Ain’t Gonna Be the Same Fool Twice doesn’t spend much time with Stevie’s college years, showing only how the protagonist befriends two other black women and a white French woman, all residents of Stevie’s dorm. Again, Stevie’s feelings for a woman aren’t totally platonic — this time it’s the French woman — and Stevie can’t tell her black friends. She skates around whether she’s allowed to have white friends, let alone a white lover, and how the black community typically reacts to LGBTQ individuals.
While Coffee Will Make You Black has race at the forefront and sexuality in the wing, Ain’t Gonna Be the Same Fool Twice flip-flops that. Stevie points out that she knows white college students who steal all the time, but when she walks into a store, the clerks whisper, “You’ve gotta watch them, they’ll steal anything that’s not nailed down.” Later, Stevie acknowledges that her white roommate, who gets nude on a public beach, doesn’t listen to commands to get dressed. Instead, she dances. Why? Because this woman wouldn’t have to worry that anything she “ever did would reflect upon an entire race of people. She was an individual. She was white.”
And this gets to the crux of Stevie’s life. After college graduation, Steve and two friends head to San Francisco for a vacation. Realized the community there welcomes gays and lesbians, Stevie decides to stay. It’s the summer of 1975. She locates lesbian bars and women-only spaces to find out who she is. But in the end, she always wants to be herself, not a label. Stevie finds the lesbian/gay community tries to make her choose sides, just like fellow black students in high school did, when she realizes she may be bi-sexual. She admits to her new friend Sterling that she’s attracted to men and women:
Sterling smiled. “You have your reputation to consider.”
“Yes, you’re building a portfolio.”
“Why can’t I just be open to whatever feels right?”
“Because, then the next thing you know they’ll be calling you bisexual.”
“That’s so bad?”
“Stevie, everybody hates bisexuals. Lesbians will think you’re just a straight woman experimenting at their expense. And heterosexuals will see you as a nymphomaniac.”
Based on conversations on Twitter, I know bisexual individuals are still often ostracized, so I found Stevie’s experiences searching for identity educational.
April Sinclair captures the 1970s well, likely because she’s from Chicago (like Stevie) and moved to San Francisco Bay (like Stevie). The characters are feminist first and black second, another trait that doesn’t sit right with Stevie because it comes back to labels. People talk about “vibes,” asking Stevie to “just try and tune in to the vibes a person is putting out before [Stevie inserts her] energy into their space. . .” There are hippies and womanists galore — it’s the 70s! — who Stevie navigates.
Because Ain’t Gonna Be the Same Fool Twice explores sexuality, there are many sexual situations and adult language. Sinclair can spin a funny tale, though. It’s not overwhelmingly offensive. Stevie’s grandma, who’s more progressive than Stevie’s mother, gives Stevie advice like “if you can’t be good, be careful.” And in reference to her white afro, she says, “Chile, there might be snow on the chimney . . . but, there’s sho’ nuff fire down below.” This granny is feisty. She’s not too proper to say, “And if he cain’t cut the mustard, he kin least lick the jar.” Sure, I’m blushing (I have some grannies), but I’m also laughing that Stevie’s grandma has clever sayings that allow her to speak openly about sex.
Lastly, April Sinclair writes strong dialogue. Most authors don’t. In fact, some famous authors skip dialogue because it’s so hard. Sinclair has an ear for spoken rhythm, though. Here’s an excellent, funny example of Stevie talking to her friend’s brother, who visits in San Francisco before he moves to Alaska. The exchange begins with him, Buster:
“Why not Alaska? I need to stack up me some dead presidents.”
“So it’s all about the paper?” [asks Stevie]
Buster nodded. “I’ma be working on the pipeline, making some long green.”
“It’s gonna be cold up there.”
“That’s cool, ’cause money’s got all kinds of friends. Heat is one of ’em.”
I highly recommend Ain’t Gonna Be the Same Fool Twice, but you must read Coffee Will Make You Black first.