Grey Boy Book Review – The Literary Edit

After the last Bondi Literary Salon of the year discussing Maggie O’Farrell’s undeniable Hamnet, I bought a copy of Greyboy by Cole Brown. I had adored O’Farrell’s fictional reinterpretation of the story of Shakespeare’s son and wanted to follow up with a very different book. When Jane – who owns Gertrude & Alice – suggested buying a recently signed copy of Greyboy, whose author Cole Brown lived in Bondi, I immediately agreed.

I took it home that night and was instantly gripped by the Philadelphia author’s account of growing up a black who, thanks to class privilege, ran in predominantly white circles. Greyboy consists of a collection of essays, rich in nuanced vignettes, examining everything from racism to birthright to education and activism not being black enough.

Gray Boy Book Review

I liked the frankness and candor of Cole’s writing – and the way he did not shy away from topics other writers may have done – alcohol and drugs; to friendship; to death; to political injustice; to police brutality; to family life.

Without a doubt, my favorite part of the book – and one that stayed long after I turned the pages – was the letter that Cole had enclosed from his mother. A nostalgic ode to Cole’s growing up that freed me from longing for my two parents. It was an intimate glimpse into a clearly special relationship between the author and his beloved mother.

With a lot of books that I enjoy, I can pinpoint what intrigued me as a reader – with Greyboy it’s something I struggle with. It’s a book I’ve recommended to as many people as it will hear, and yet I can’t quite say what I loved about Greyboy. Whether it was the talented storytelling or the unique perspective, whether it was the timeliness of the story or the compelling topics, it’s a book that I think everyone should absolutely read.

Gray Boy abstract

An honest and courageous test of what it means to find your way in between

Cole has heard it all before – Token, Bougie, Oreo, Blackish – the things we call the kids like him. Black children who grow up in white spaces and live at an intersection between race and class that there are many doubts. He had to stray far from the neat part of his upbringing before he could understand anything. Through a series of personal anecdotes and peer interviews, Cole transports us into his youth and explores what it’s like to be young and in search of identity. It delves into the places where the grayboy difference is most evident in youth: parenting, police brutality, Trumpism, depression, and dating, to name a few.

Greyboy: Finding blackness in a white world poses an important question: what is blackness? There’s also the answer: a lot more than you damned thought.

Cole Brown

Cole Brown Author Bio

Cole Brown grew up in the city of brotherly love and was a Philly child at heart. Between the summers of childhood between Ethiopia and the Midwest, Cole matured in Philadelphia’s mostly white private schools and neighborhoods, an experience that sparked an awareness of race and class from an early age.

After graduating from high school, Cole moved to Washington DC to attend Georgetown University as a finance major. Major events like the death of Michael Brown and the election of Donald Trump caused Cole to rethink his original plans. Cole graduated from Georgetown with a major in Justice and Peace Studies and a passion for storytelling.

While in Georgetown, Cole was inspired to write his first book, Greyboy: Finding Blackness in a White World.

Today Cole lives between Sydney, Australia and New York.

further reading

Want to learn more about the author of Gray Boy? Check out Booktopia’s interview with Cole Brown here. This is a wonderful comment from Cole about what it was like for him to see his country collapse from afar. Do you need new reading? Add one of the books Cole would take to a desert island to your literary wish list.

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