"We Are Not Like Them," Reviewed by Katie Reed
We Are Not Like Them, co-written by Christine Pride and Jo Piazza, heartily embodies the values of Bridges—namely connecting, sharing, and amplifying voices and experiences. Set in our very own Philadelphia, the novel is about the close, lifelong friendship between Riley, a Black woman who works as a journalist, and Jenny, a white woman who works as a secretary. It follows specifically how that friendship is tested when Kevin, Jenny’s husband, is one of two police officers involved in the shooting, and consequent murder, of a 14-year-old, unarmed, Black child named Justin Dwyer. The novel is told through Riley and Jenny’s alternating perspectives in a stream-of-consciousness style, giving the audience a glimpse into the innermost thoughts of the two women as they find themselves on different sides—Riley being the one to report on the story and make sure everyone knows the truth, while Jenny feels that she must stand by her husband. The two characters are forced to face how race impacts their lives in vastly different ways and what that means for the friendship they have spent so long cultivating, realizing that they don’t know each other like they thought they did.
Both Pride and Piazza have a lot of experience in the publishing industry. Pride has been working as an editor for 15 years and is now at Simon & Schuster, with this book being the first one she has written. Piazza has written seven books, and her friendship with Pride began when Pride became the editor of her book Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win. Pride, a Black woman, and Piazza, a white woman, bring their own experiences to this novel. Though the friendship between Riley and Jenny is not a direct extension of Pride and Piazza, their relationship nevertheless mirrors that of the authors and how their friendship was also tested in writing this book together.
In interviews, Pride and Piazza talked about how their different identities led to nights during the writing process where they could not come to an agreement or even speak to one another, which adds an authenticity to the characters they have created. A moment like this happens in “Chapter Ten” of the novel, where Riley and Jenny have been trading emails back and forth, unable to confront each other in person. When Jenny finishes her last email with the hope that soon her life can regain normalcy, Riley doesn’t know what to say. How can life go back to normal after the senseless killing of a 14-year-old kid, one more name to add to the lengthy list of victims from police brutality? Jenny doesn’t recognize the immense privilege she has as a white woman in thinking that life can go back to normal, something that is not a reality for Black Americans and the families of those who have been lost in police shootings.
The overall takeaway of this book is the importance of communication and having conversations about race, even when they are difficult—especially when they are difficult. This book itself is engaged in a deep conversation with the current climate of the U.S. regarding police brutality and institutionalized racism, since according to The Washington Post , as of December 10, 2021, the police have killed 918 people in the past year, with Black Americans being shot and killed at a significantly higher rate than their white counterparts. The book was written in response to the world seeing the deaths of Stephon Clark, Antwon Rose, and Emantic Bradford Jr. at the hands of the police; it is still pertinent today after the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black Americans.
Something that I find compelling about this novel as both an editor and a reader is its ability to invite the reader to self-reflect as they progress through Riley and Jenny’s differing perspectives. From the first page, the reader is thrust into the heart of the story, making them want to keep turning the page to find out how it all ends. However, one drawback that I found from this book is that there was not a lot of direct conversation throughout the novel between Riley and Jenny. From an editorial standpoint, I can see how this aspect of the novel demonstrates the reality of how difficult it can be to confront a friend, especially when both friends have different lived experiences and are becoming distant from one another. As previously mentioned, it also mirrors how it was difficult for both Pride and Piazza to have the same conversations about race as their characters. Despite this, I find myself wanting more as a reader. The tension in the novel builds in such a way that all you want is to see the two friends have the fight or reconciliation that they seem itching to have, even if it doesn’t align with the editorial perspective. I think it is natural for a reader to want closure, but I can also appreciate how this closure does not and cannot always come so easily.
There is one scene where Riley and Jenny finally have a major confrontation, in which they come to realize how different their perceptions and lived experiences regarding race are. Nevertheless, when they come away from the conversation, there are still many things that they have not talked about, despite the whole novel seemingly leading to this point. A few chapters later, Riley goes to Jenny’s house, and it feels like the conflict has been resolved; they have another brief conversation where they pledge to engage in a better dialogue with each other from then on. As a reader, I thought this was a great moment of them coming together, but as an editor I was left wondering how they came to this point after only having confronted each other one time. This did not feel entirely realistic, given how different their viewpoints were and how much tension there was between them. I think the novel could benefit from more conversations between the two friends so that the audience can better understand that meaningful discussions about race and identity can’t just happen once. Rather, they need to be ongoing to further the growth of a relationship and come to a more mutual understanding.
Overall, this novel not only embodies Bridges through its message of building connections and the collaboration of authors from different identities, it also reflects the current state of our world. It is a book that calls on us to pause and reflect on our own experiences, realizing where we still have room to learn and grow.
We Are Not Like Them
Christine Pride and Jo Piazza
Katie Reed is a junior at Villanova University from Bellingham, MA. She is majoring in both English and Communication, and is hoping to one day pursue a career in the editing and publishing industry. She has a passion for reading and writing, and on campus, she is an Honors Peer Mentor, a Lorenzini Leadership Ambassador for the Anne Welsh McNulty Institute for Women’s Leadership, and she writes for The Villanovan.