by David E. Gumpert
Publication Date: December 9, 2019
Genres: YA, Interracial Teen Romance, Historical Fiction, Coming of Age, Romance
Maybe because they are young and innocent, cute black Valerie Davis and nerdy white Jeffrey Stark are late to realize that falling in love on Chicago’s South Side in 1963 is a highly risky business for an interracial couple. At first, they help each other out of tough racial fixes—he saves her from attack at an all-white amusement park and she saves him from injury in a racial brawl at their high school. But as their romance becomes more serious, so do the racial dangers. White police target Valerie as a prostitute and black gang members see Jeffrey as trying to sexually exploit a black girl. Seemingly inevitably, the blossoming romance collides head on with the realities of Northern-style racism one hot summer afternoon at one of Chicago’s most beautiful Lake Michigan beaches, when a racial protest turns ugly, confronting the couple with terrible choices.
Gouster Girl vividly depicts the raw racism so prevalent during the early 1960s, which ushered in decades of gang violence that turned sections of Chicago into the urban killing fields they are today. Gouster Girl opens in the summer of 1963 with the white Stark family tearfully moving its belongings onto a moving truck in front of the tidy South Shore neighborhood apartment building they love, just blocks from where Michelle Obama would grow up. As they load up the truck, 16-year-old Jeff and his parents argue yet again about the racial fears and fantasies that are leading them to abandon South Shore, with its delis and shuls and beautiful beaches. Through the eyes of Jeff, Gouster Girl then takes us back to the unlikely racial violence that led to his romance with Valerie and how she variously teases and embarrasses him to confront his most deeply held racial prejudices. Valerie introduces Jeff to the highs and lows of her life– to black music and dancing, as well as police corruption, job discrimination, misguided school tracking systems and housing discrimination that keeps blacks separate and unequal.
A makeout session in an isolated section of Jackson Park leads the couple into a confrontation with police, which highlights for both the realities of what we today refer to as “white privilege.” It also pushes the Stark family more fully toward a decision about whether to join other whites in fleeing South Shore.
This highly evocative coming-of-age story will alternately charm, anger terrify, and upset readers as they travel back to a time that was seemingly simpler, but was also blunt in its racial and religious prejudices.
ABOUT DAVID E. GUMPERT
David E. Gumpert grew up on the South Side of Chicago, in South Shore and Hyde Park. In the years since graduating from the University of Chicago, he has attended Columbia Journalism School and worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and an editor for the Harvard Business Review and Inc. magazine. He has also authored ten nonfiction books on a variety of subjects—from entrepreneurship and small business management to food politics. His most prominent titles include How to Really Create a Successful Business Plan (from Inc. Publishing); How to Really Start Your Own Business (Inc. Publishing); Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Food Rights (Chelsea Green Publishing), and The Raw Milk Answer Book (Lauson Publishing).
He spent ten years in the 1990s and early 2000s researching his family’s history during the Holocaust. The result was a book co-authored with his deceased aunt Inge Bleier: Inge: A Girl’s Journey Through Nazi Europe (Wm. B. Eerdman Publishing).
He spent much of the last half-dozen years going back to his own roots in Chicago to research and write the historical novel, Gouster Girl. While some of it stems from his own experiences growing up in South Shore and Hyde Park, he also conducted significant additional research to complete the book in late 2019.
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