The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe (Review)

The Gilded Years

5 / 5 Stars

Goodreads Description
Since childhood, Anita Hemmings has longed to attend the country’s most exclusive school for women, Vassar College. Now, a bright, beautiful senior in the class of 1897, she is hiding a secret that would have banned her from admission: Anita is the only African-American student ever to attend Vassar. With her olive complexion and dark hair, this daughter of a janitor and descendant of slaves has successfully passed as white, but now finds herself rooming with Louise “Lottie” Taylor, the scion of one of New York’s most prominent families.

Though Anita has kept herself at a distance from her classmates, Lottie’s sphere of influence is inescapable, her energy irresistible, and the two become fast friends. Pulled into her elite world, Anita learns what it’s like to be treated as a wealthy, educated white woman—the person everyone believes her to be—and even finds herself in a heady romance with a moneyed Harvard student. It’s only when Lottie becomes infatuated with Anita’s brother, Frederick, whose skin is almost as light as his sister’s, that the situation becomes particularly perilous. And as Anita’s college graduation looms, those closest to her will be the ones to dangerously threaten her secret.

Set against the vibrant backdrop of the Gilded Age, an era when old money traditions collided with modern ideas, Tanabe has written an unputdownable and emotionally compelling story of hope, sacrifice, and betrayal—and a gripping account of how one woman dared to risk everything for the chance at a better life.

My Review
I am such a fan of historical fiction so naturally I was eager to dive into this title selected by Once Upon a Book Club for their August 2016 box.  

I wasn’t sure what to expect, and honestly the beginning was a bit slow.  The storyline prior to Anita admitting to her secret was honestly quite tough to read, but once it was made apparent that she would have to work incredibly hard to hide it, it really picked up.

Anita was actually a marvelous character that I truly enjoyed for entirety of the story.  I loved the description and the late 19th century language and fashion that wove itself through this story.  All the characters felt real to me, as though this was a true piece of history that had been presented for me to enjoy.  I had my hopes up for a certain ending but as I kept learning more about Anita and her struggles, I realized that wasn’t the ending I wanted for her anymore.  I was so pleased with how the story ended and the resolve Anita had throughout her life.

This was a powerful story that really resonated with me and I’m so pleased that I finally had the opportunity to read and enjoy it.


This was a wonderful title and I absolutely recommend it!

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