In this new blog series I’m calling Nailed it, Failed it, we will examine two novels that deal with the same topic—one that did it well and one that did not. Today, I’m looking at novels that deal with racial fraud or “race-faking.” “Race-faking” (which is more of a socially accepted term, rather than one found in the dictionary) is generally understood as someone lying about their racial (or ethnic) identity in order to gain something. While racial fraud is wrong and widely frowned upon, it is a reality of our times. Like any other experience, it is bound to end up in the literature we read.

Each novel I am discussing today uses the idea of racial fraud in very different manners, and it’s rather interesting. So, who nailed it and who failed it?

The Contestants

Nailed It, Failed It: A Dual Book Review

The Sentence By Louise Erdrich

Genre: Literary Fiction, Magical Realism

“I love statistics because they place what happens to a scrap of humanity, like me, on a worldwide scale.”

Erdrich tells the striking story of Tookie, a Native American woman, trying to find her place in the world after years of incarceration. She begins working at a bookstore and working at a bookstore where she joins a dedicated community of artists and book lovers and begins to build a new life for herself. When Flora, the store’s most persistent customer, suddenly dies, her ghost begins to haunt her, revealing some tragic realities of her Native roots. Tookie fights for normalcy in her life but is forced to take action against the real world and spiritual beasts around her.

Erdrich grounds her fictional tale in the world we live in now by speaking about the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic and the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. She intertwines two stories into one experience, blending Tookie’s mental diary into a tale of what it means to change and do good.

Find It Now

Nailed It, Failed It: A Dual Book Review

Mislaid by Nell Zink

Genre: Historical Fiction, LGBTQIA+, Literary Fiction

“When the past is hard to explain, it’s best to concentrate on the future.”

In 1966, college freshman Peggy, begins an ill-advised affair with a professor that results in an unplanned pregnancy and marriage. The two are mismatched from the start—she’s a lesbian, he’s gay-—but it takes a decade of emotional erosion before Peggy runs off with their daughter, abandoning her husband and son in the process. She steals someone else’s identity to hide away, adopting Black personas for her and her daughter. Peggy spends the rest of her life trying to discover who she is, while struggling to raise her daughter. Eventually her story twists enough to lead into a chaotic reunion.

Zink advertises her story as a simple satire, yet it feels far from self aware. It actually feels more shocking to read than enjoyable. She tries hard to weave a sincere message but does more harm than good—not to detail the blatant pedophilia she writes into her subplot.

Find It Now

The Sentence vs Mislaid

In Erdrich’s The Sentence, Tookie continuously encounters a woman who puts herself into the same tribal circle. Eventually, after a considerable amount of story switching, Tookie, and literally everyone else, learns that she is not a Native American. This woman is not the main character in the story, however she seems to enhance Tookie’s own connection to her heritage. There is also a sense of agreement among everyone that what she is doing is wrong, and yet they accept her into their lives because she worked to better their community.

In Zink’s Mislaid, to which I felt constantly misled, Peggy essentially steals her daughter away from her husband so that Peggy, herself, can live apart from him. In a way, I do feel bad for Peggy because her husband is mean and constantly insinuates that she is crazy. However, Peggy steals the identity of a deceased child for her daughter in order to find some resolve in her own life. She raises her blonde hair, blue-eyed white daughter as Black and hides within the system. She uses egregious societal stereotypes to pass, such as her daughter getting into college on a minority scholarship. There is no ounce of shame or regret, from either Peggy or her daughter. At the end, her daughter is actually happy to no longer be Black; she is excited by the opportunities of being white.


Peggy lies to further her own life, while not helping anyone around her. She is never shamed for her actions by anyone around her. It was actually embarrassing to read but enlightening in the sense that I can acknowledge what I thoroughly dislike. In the end, regardless of the attempted satire, her story is neither funny nor interesting; rather, it might just be a good tool for comparison. Both stories use the “race faker” in their plots, however Erdrich’s story, in my humble opinion, shines for its self-aware portrayal that never becomes a driving force within Tookie’s story.

Nailed It, Failed It: A Dual Book Review

Author Highlight: Louise Erdrich

One of my favorite stories by Louise Erdrich is The Round House. It is tragic and beautiful, as it depicts the trauma of sexual violence and the love of family.

Louise Erdrich has written numerous stories about Native American people and their culture for both adults and children.

For more by her, check out our catalog.