Books Magazine

Fiction Friday-Kindred by Octavia Butler

By Shawndrarussell
We are wrapping up Kindred in my classroom, and I think it has been a success. Many of the students said they enjoyed it, and those that have read ahead and finished the book said that they are kind of mad about the ending--any book that gets you mad, sad, or happy (ideally all three) is a good book in my opinion. Kindred is about Dana, a black woman living in the 1970's in California, and she is newly married to a white man, Kevin, who is a little bit older than her and sometimes is blind to the prejudices around him. His rationale is that since they were able to get married, it shows how far race relations have come (which of course is still not enough). Dana for whatever reason begins time traveling  not by her own power--literally she will disappear and reappear in 1800's in Maryland. The time travel is never explained, but it's just a vehicle for Butler to discuss slavery in a fresh way.  Many of my students said, "Oh man...more stuff about slavery? I feel like that's all we ever learn about in school--that and the Holocaust." Maybe education does focus too much on these horrific topics, but the great thing about Kindred is that even those kids who griped at first admitted that they had never read or thought about slavery quite like the way Butler shows it through Dana's eyes and pain as a free black woman from the future that gets treated, scolded, belittled, and beaten like a slave every time she suddenly transports back to the 1800's.
One of Butler's main messages is that of acceptance--in most of her novels, she puts people that society sometimes doesn't think fit together (black and white, old and young, same gender, etc.) and make them figure out how to relate to each other and focus on their similarities rather than their differences. We are all human, and therefore we have a common thread that should make us not have hatred, prejudice, cruelty, or meanness towards other humans (even animals---really anything living). Butler's topics of love, acceptance, the concept of home, purpose, and even our connections to our ancestors and the past all come to the surface of this novel and make you reflect on your own behavior, attitude, and interaction with others. Any book that urges you to be a better person deserves a thorough read, and you won't be disappointed in this simply written yet powerfully moving novel that made Butler known for creating science fiction with a heart--full of the complexities of human relationships and that most mysterious being--our heart. 

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