By Nella Larsen,

Book cover of Passing

Book description

A classic, brilliant and layered novel that has been at the heart of racial identity discourse in America for almost a century.

Clare Kendry leads a dangerous life. Fair, elegant, and ambitious, she is married to a white man unaware of her African American heritage and has severed all ties…

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Why read it?

6 authors picked Passing as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

I’ve read this book several times and saw the 2021 film. This is the quintessential novel on how skin color can affect one's choices in life as well as the life one is relegated to.

It made me really contemplate how someone can move from one world to another with either no concern (as in the case of Clare) or major angst, as in the case of Irene.

I loved this book because the struggles were real, and the end was unexpected.

Both Irene and Clare are married to successful men. But that aside, these mixed-race friends from childhood deal with the racism of early 20th century New York differently.

While both can ‘pass’ as white, Irene lives within her Harlem community while Clare wants to straddle both worlds. She coerces Irene into facilitating a double life.

I’ve no personal experience of ‘passing’ so learnt a lot about the issues the women grappled with; opportunity verses deception, the quest for self-identify and self-worth in a racist rule-bound society, the need to belong, and how that’s negotiated.

In the shocking final scene,…

From Pamela's list on extraordinary women.

Although Clare Kendry and Irene Redfield are only old childhood friends, their relationship has intense sister vibes. Each woman’s mix of jealousy and curiosity about the other’s life, the latent homoerotic desire that serves as an undercurrent for so much of the rising action, a suspected affair, and the explosive ending to Clare’s ruse all illustrate the kind of sibling rivalry I love to explore in my critical as well as my creative work. Not to mention, one of my favorite literary flexes of all time occurs near the end when Irene’s plucky friend Felise has to check a white…

I rarely let a book go from my shelves, but this is one I’ve pulled down twice and passed on to two friends after they noticed the Passing title on the spine. I told them it was about two biracial childhood friends, Clare and Irene, who collide later in life as Clare passes for white secretly in 1920s Harlem. Whoah… they were hooked. I discovered this oldie but goodie in a college Harlem Renaissance course, with author Nella Larsen recently rediscovered as a national literary treasure. The 2021 Netflix film adaptation is pretty awesome. Read this psychological thriller for a…

From Kalisha's list on Black women’s friendships.

I discovered this novella thanks to its recent screen adaptation. The novel, like the film, outlines the dual traps faced by one of the protagonists, a light-skinned Black woman who can escape racial injustices by passing as white, only to fall prey to the shame, anxiety, and dangers of living a lie. The savagery of this double-edged trap is only partially masked by social niceties and delicate writing that nevertheless betray damaging assumptions and behaviors. The novella is a natural for cinematic adaptation, where the racial dynamic is necessarily more immediately visible, and which necessarily emphasizes dynamics of looking and…

A beloved novel from the Harlem Renaissance that follows the fraught relationship between two childhood friends, one who passes for white and one who chooses not to. The forthcoming adaptation, starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga, is a faithful and gorgeous reimagining of the novel. Shot beautifully in black and white, it movingly captures the tense friendship at the heart of the book.

From Brit's list on being Black in America.

Want books like Passing?

Our community of 10,000+ authors has personally recommended 100 books like Passing.

Browse books like Passing

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in African Americans, the Harlem Renaissance, and multiracial people?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about African Americans, the Harlem Renaissance, and multiracial people.

African Americans Explore 715 books about African Americans
The Harlem Renaissance Explore 23 books about the Harlem Renaissance
Multiracial People Explore 69 books about multiracial people