Chapters 9–13


Summary: Chapter 9: The Mulberry Tree

Most mixed-race, or “colored,” South Africans are not connected to their roots in the same way that Black South Africans are, and mostly assimilated into Afrikaner culture instead of the Black tribal cultures. Noah believes, for this reason, that mixed-race South Africans have had a more difficult history than Black South Africans.

As a mixed-race child, Trevor felt more animosity from the mixed-race community than from other racial groups. Under apartheid, there was a real threat that white citizens would be reclassified as colored, so white parents often had to prove their children were not mixed-race. As a class, mixed-race South Africans were lower than white citizens but higher than Black ones. When apartheid ended, Black citizens came to enjoy a higher status than mixed-race ones. This power shift increased tensions between mixed-race and Black communities. Trever felt hated by white people because of his brown skin and curly hair, but he was also ridiculed by Black people for having a perfect English accent. Trevor recalls being bullied by some mixed-race kids in his neighborhood. They started throwing mulberries, and then small rocks, at Trevor until he went home crying. Patricia’s boyfriend, Abel, beat the other boys with a switch and forced their leader to apologize to Trevor. In that moment, Trevor realized that this fellow mixed-race boy had been taught to hate Trevor as much as they were both taught to hate themselves. Abel then started a fight with the boy’s father, and Trevor saw what a dangerous man his mother’s boyfriend was.

Summary: Chapter 10: A Young Man’s Long, Awkward, Occasionally Tragic, and Frequently Humiliating Education in Affairs of the Heart, Part I: Valentine’s Day

Patricia spent a lot of time teaching Trevor how men should interact respectfully and effectively with women. Noah wishes he had learned more from his mother about how to be a boy and how to talk to girls, but Patricia insisted that Trevor learn about more adult interactions.

There was a Valentine’s Day fundraiser at Trevor’s primary school. Trevor’s friends encouraged him to ask Maylene, the only mixed-race girl in his school, to be his Valentine. Though he had been assured that Maylene would say yes, Trevor was nervous about asking her. The pair often walked home from school together, and one day Trevor finally asked. Maylene agreed to be Trevor’s Valentine, and then they kissed outside of a McDonald’s. This was Trevor’s first kiss. He saved up money to buy Maylene gifts for Valentine’s Day and eagerly awaited his opportunity to give them to his new girlfriend. The day came, and Trevor greeted Maylene. She informed Trevor that she could no longer be his girlfriend because another boy had asked Maylene to be his Valentine. Trevor was heartbroken, but he gave Maylene her gifts anyway. Though he was disappointed, Trevor still understood why Maylene had picked this other boy, Leonard, instead. Leonard was white and good-looking. 

Summary: Chapter 11: Outsider

Patricia was so reluctant to buy gasoline, an expensive commodity, that her car would often run out of fuel. Noah recalls taking off his school uniform jacket so his classmates would not recognize him while he pushed his mother’s car along the road.

In the eighth grade, Trevor began attending Sandringham High School. Trevor’s classmates were a mix of white, Black, mixed-race, Indian, and Chinese students. Each racial group had wealthy, middle-class, working-class, and township students. As in most social settings, Trevor had a hard time figuring out which group to join. Since Trevor lived forty minutes away from his school, he felt disconnected from the social groups outside of school as well. This commute often meant that Trevor was late to school, and this earned him detention almost every day. During lunch breaks, Trevor would race to be first in line at the nearby food truck to buy snacks. Students quickly learned that they could pay Trevor to buy snacks for them, and Trevor soon began taking orders from his wealthy classmates. This role gave Trevor the chance to hone his humor, shed his position as a social outcast, and earn some extra pocket money.

Summary: Chapter 12: A Young Man’s Long, Awkward, Occasionally Tragic, and Frequently Humiliating Education in Affairs of the Heart, Part II: The Crush

Noah does not regret anything he has done, but he is often filled with regret for things he has not done. Noah believes that failure and rejection are the best way to avoid regret.

Trevor did not receive much attention from girls, in part, he feels, because he suffered from severe acne during puberty. However, talking to girls came easy to Trevor because he could make them laugh. Trevor’s classmate Johanna was best friends with a beautiful girl named Zaheera. Though he was only in the ninth grade, Trevor devised a plan to ask Zaheera to the matriculation dance, their senior prom. Trevor became Zaheera’s friend, and he talked to her as often as he could. Whenever Zaheera and her boyfriend broke up, Trevor was there to talk her through it. Once Zaheera was single for good, Trevor wanted to tell Zaheera how he felt but was too afraid. After winter break, Zaheera did not return to school. Johanna told Trevor that Zaheera’s family had moved to America. Trevor was even more devastated when Johanna told him that Zaheera had always wished Trevor would ask her out. Trevor knew he missed the chance to be with Zaheera because he never had the courage to tell her how he felt. 

Summary: Chapter 13: Colorblind

Highlands Park was a largely Jewish, entirely white neighborhood until Patricia found one house for sale that was in poor condition. Trevor longed to be friends with the other children living in Highlands Park, but he was never invited to join them. Some families allowed their domestic workers to live with them in the servants’ quarters, and Trevor became friends with many of these children in his neighborhood. 

Trevor and his friend Teddy regularly got into trouble together. One day, the two boys were caught stealing from a store and were chased by a mall cop. Trevor lost track of Teddy during the chase, but he was able to evade the cops. Trevor looked for Teddy at Teddy’s house, and then Trevor went home to wait there for Teddy. On Monday, Teddy didn’t show up to school. That afternoon, Teddy’s parents came to Trevor’s house to tell Patricia that Teddy had been arrested for shoplifting. Teddy said he was alone, but Patricia did not believe that Trevor was not also involved in the theft. The next day, Trevor was called into the principal’s office to identify the other boy caught on the security camera shoplifting with Teddy. In the low-quality black-and-white footage, Teddy’s accomplice looked like a white boy. The principal believed that Trevor, being Teddy’s best friend, would know which of their white classmates was shoplifting with Teddy. Trevor gave no name. He waited for weeks to be caught and punished, but the call never came.

Analysis: Chapters 9–13

After the end of apartheid, Patricia’s inability to curb the animosity that white, Black, and even other mixed-race people show Trevor illustrates her limitations. The bullying incident at the mulberry tree relates to the chapter’s introduction about the importance of roots, and the incident illustrates how assimilation under apartheid led mixed-race people to hate one another. The boys who bully Trevor look like him, and they hate him as much as they hate themselves because they aspire to be a part of the Afrikaner culture, which in turn hates them all. Noah provides no greater context for the hatred that Patricia’s boyfriend, Abel, displays when he seeks revenge on the bullies. Both Abel’s hatred and Trevor’s inability to comprehend its source foreshadow the violence that Abel will exhibit toward Patricia.

Trevor’s romantic experiences provide him with an opportunity to gain perspective on social dynamics even as he processes difficult feelings of rejection. He is heartbroken when Maylene breaks it off with him, but as a mixed-race girl, Maylene will increase her social status by choosing Trevor’s white romantic rival over him. Trevor is hurt, but not angry. Because of Patricia’s previous lesson with Fufi, Trevor now has the ability to empathize with Maylene and understands that her choice does not necessarily indicate that she cares for him any less.

Trevor’s inability to make deep social connections at his high school illustrates how the deeply rooted restrictions of apartheid continue to limit those whom they oppressed, even after apartheid ends. Trevor continues to suffer from apartheid’s geographic boundaries, which surround his school, and the lack of wealth that dictates his status within school. Although Trevor is still not a part of a primary social group, his proximity to several different groups allows him to take stock of the qualities he possesses and can leverage for social gain, such as his sense of humor. The girls at Trevor’s school appreciate his comedic ability, though his relationships with them are mostly platonic. When Trevor’s friend and crush Zaheera moves to America, he is devastated to find out that she returned his amorous feelings. Maylene’s rejection reveals his ability to empathize, and Zaheera’s departure  reveals his ability to identify his own role in the missed opportunity and to express regret.

Noah’s description of how challenging it is to obtain property illustrates the fortitude that Patricia displayed in order to orchestrate their move to a new, all-white neighborhood. He describes how houses in older villages are poorly built, and many neighborhoods are historically and currently segregated. While this change in status is a major opportunity for their family, Trevor continues to feel like an outsider as he tries to settle into a new high school. He rebels by seeking out illegal activities in addition to simply misbehaving. At times Trevor’s mixed-race plays in his favor, and this fact appears in both large and small ways throughout the book. Trevor’s grandmother cannot beat him because she sees him as white, and the authorities and school officials have a hard time seeing someone of Trevor’s skin color as an accomplice to a shoplifting crime because the accomplice appears fully white in the camera footage. To be in a colorblind society is to live in one where racial classification does not affect a person’s socially created opportunities. The title of the Chapter, Colorblind, ironically reflects that in this society, people are anything but colorblind.