A Review of
The Means that Make Us Strangers:
Reviewed by Maria Lehr
Adelaide Henderson, the heroine in The Means that Make Us Strangers, grew up in rural Ethiopia in a village where her family were the only other white people. To Adelaide, this village is home, where she belongs. Then, at the tumultuous age of sixteen, Adelaide is informed by her parents that they are moving back “home” to South Carolina. She is devasted to leave the only place she knows as home and the people she loves, but vows to return to the village for good when she turns eighteen.
The year is 1964 and as Adelaide struggles to adapt to life in South Carolina, she befriends the five black students who sued to gain admittance into the all-white high school. These black friends remind Adelaide of home, make her feel welcome and help give life in Carolina meaning. However, Adelaide is soon thrust into the daily intricacies and injustices of the civil rights movement. Her association with her black friends causes tension between other classmates, her family and eventually culminates in a violent community brawl where the tension of race relations in Greenville finally come to a head.
At first glance, Christine Kindberg’s novel, The Means that Make Us Strangers, is one about choices – the choices we have, how we make those and ultimately what paths they lead us down in life. It is important to note that while the choices Adelaide must make in this story are difficult, they are still rooted her in privilege. This novel is also about home and belonging – what truly encompasses these ideas and ultimately who are we when our world is taken away?
But at a deeper level this novel is the coming of age story of a young teenager who does not care about what society or even her family considers to be appropriate behavior or correct societal norms. For those of us white people who did not grow up in the era of civil rights, we can underestimate the perceived cost some people spent to stand up for the racial injustices in their towns, schools, workplaces, homes, etc. The alienation, isolation, frustration and loss of relationships was nothing compared to the price paid by our black brothers and sisters but was still very real. In light of recent racial tensions still plaguing our country today, this book left me wondering – what am I willing to sacrifice to stand up to injustice? Will we stand against those we care about for what is right? Adelaide forges ahead with courage and audacity that help form her identity. Her experiences in Ethiopia and in her integrated high school molded her into an advocate for justice.
One element of this book that I loved was Kindberg’s descriptions, particularly that of Ethiopia. It was so vibrant. It made me feel like I was there – running through the grass, climbing the trees, smelling the fires and tasting the pomegranates and figs. Kindberg also does an excellent job of building tensions subtly throughout the book without overemphasizing it. The relationship development between characters was also done well but I wanted to hear more about the evolution of Adelaide’s relationship with her strict Aunt Be.
Ultimately Christine Kindberg’s The Means that Make Us Strangers reminds us that home is not a place. Home is who we are and the people that we love. Will Adelaide return to Ethiopia as promised? Or continue in her fight for justice in Carolina? I will let you read the novel yourself to discover the answer.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com