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Troost is a real street. East of it is where you can buy a house if you’re Black. It’s also where our middle-aged white narrator grew up—and where she has just returned to reboot her life. How will she fare in this vastly changed world? This fictional story, punctuated by factual memoir, is by turns soul-searching, entertaining, and heartbreaking.
Under the guise of a starting-over story, this novel deals with subtle racism today, overt racism in the past, and soul-searching about what to do about it in everyday living.
East of Troost’s fictional narrator has moved back to her childhood home in a neighborhood that is now mostly Black and vastly changed by an expressway that displaced hundreds of families. It is the area located east of Troost Avenue, an invisible barrier created in the early 1900s to keep the west side of Kansas City white, “safely” cordoned off from the Black families on the east side.
When the narrator moves back to her old neighborhood in pursuit of a sense of home, she deals with crime, home repair, and skepticism—what is this middle-aged white woman doing here, living alone? Supported by a wise neighbor, a stalwart dog, and the local hardware store, we see her navigate her adult world while we get glimpses of author Ellen Barker’s real life there as a teenager in the sixties, when white families were fleeing and Black families moving in—and sometimes back out when met with hatred and violence. A regional story with universal themes, East of Troost goes to the basics of human behavior: compassion and cruelty, fear and courage, comedy and drama.