By Jessica Hake.
There are only a few works in which I have laughed aloud while reading. Bridget Jones, the Louise Rennison Collection and, now, Oreo. Each page is overflowing with humour and wit with a musicality that dances through your mind. You don’t feel as though you are reading at all. The novel is about the heroine’s journey to find her father based on a mysterious note he left her at birth and the associated self-discovery.
The Joycean language games played throughout this literary knockout with semantic puzzles, euphemisms and a medley of neologisms, seem to juxtapose the profound message within the pages of the book. A strong and sobering message creeps up on you until you have a little break and register that Ross has pulled apart society to address feminism, culture, ethnicity, race and urban violence. Interspersed in lighthearted fun and games, these topics are reflected in an imitated version of life.
In Oreo, Ross creates a classic heroine. Oreo, the character, is symbolic of the imagery of the edible treat Oreo – black on the outside yet white on the inside. This is because of society and the genealogy of having a Jewish father and a black mother. Or at least that’s the initial premise, in reality, the nickname comes from a much more lighthearted and comedic source. Oreo’s narrative can be likened to observational stand-up-comics such as Ricky Gervais or Ellen DeGeneres as she chronicles her thoughts throughout the story. A light comedy with elements bordering on the theatrical – the Vaudevillian methods used throughout the novel at the expense of other character’s idiosyncrasies ensures an enjoyable read.
Amanda Sarasien believes ‘the novel will endure, greeting each new generation of readers with its continuing relevance, its edginess which resists smoothing down, and its unsettling questions, which further probe that unfinished experiment that is American culture’. Sarasien concisely sums up what I am unable to describe. Oreo, in my opinion, is yet to gain the full respect and awareness that it deserves. I am unsure of how long it will take exactly, but from generation to generation this novel will be passed on with the message never being diluted. Like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, Oreo deserves to have universal acknowledgment and adoring fans. Maybe like Bridget Jones, Fran Ross’ novel will become a staple in any adolescent’s reading. I hope so, as aside from the fact that the message Ross vocalises engulfs and traps the reader through pages of literary acrobatics, Oreo is quite simply an enjoyable read. Now I am off to read it again because I have a few moments to spare. I urge you to pick this novel up and read Oreo through your own eyes.