I sometimes wonder what it is about a book that grips me: the characters, the plot, the setting, etc. Rarely do all the elements of a novel seamlessly intertwine to form a story so compelling that I can’t put it down. To be fair, I’ve read a lot of books recently that had the same effect, but Not Pink by Margaret Kasimatis kept me up until the wee hours of the morning (much to my chagrin the following day!).
Trigger warnings: self-harm, suicide ideation, possible sexual assault
Not Pink follows the story of Mary Therese Panos, a troubled young woman caught between her Greek patriarchal upbringing and the roaring counterculture of the ’60s. After her father passes away when she’s young, Mae’s mother and uncle send her to boarding school for the next seven years. For the spirited Mae, those years represent not only a time of rebellion and exploration but also a time of loneliness. She misses her mother and brother, and she rarely sees them except on breaks and holidays.
The story’s beginning guides readers with two perspectives: Mae at ten and Mae in her late teens. In the latter viewpoint, we see Mae begin her experimentation with drugs and boys. This whirlwind combination proves intoxicating and lands the young girl in a situation she never expected: pregnant and soon-to-be married to Tommy, the baby’s father.
Eight years later, in the second part of Not Pink, Mae and Tommy’s marriage is troubled. Her husband has been offered a promotion and wants to move across Chicago with his family. Mae, content with their current location and worried about their daughter, dislikes the idea of change. But Tommy and her brother Michael forge ahead anyways, depriving Mae of her choice. This tips the already unbalanced mother towards the slippery slope of drugs, drinking, and cutting. Mae finds solace and escape in this path of self-destruction.
What will it take for Mae to confront her demons once and for all…before they send her into oblivion?
Margaret Kasimatis’s expertise in psychology offers readers unparalleled insight into the mind and inner workings of this troubled woman, both the good and the bad. Margaret doesn’t demonize or glamorize Mae’s decisions; rather, she presents a much more plausible and nuanced character. We all know or knew someone like Mae.
Perhaps what strikes me the most about Not Pink is the discussion around agency and lack of agency as motivators. Mae feels people in her life make decisions for her, without her. And this pushes her towards habits where she does have agency. To what extent will she go before she loses everything, including that which is most precious to her: her daughter Kristy? It’s the book’s driving question with a rather unexpected answer. Mae’s ultimate agency comes in deciding her future, should she choose to embrace it.
Not Pink is one of those rare novels that sticks with you long after you read it. You might want to dislike Mae, but as you learn more about her, the more you understand her. This comes as a result of Margaret slowly and gradually revealing her protagonist’s layers.
Lastly, Not Pink strikes me as a commentary on how one can handle unrealized and unfulfilled dreams. For instance, Tommy works as a hardware store manager when he had wanted to major in engineering. And yet, he tries to make the best of his situation. Contrast this to Mae, and you can see the difference. This isn’t to say there’s a right and a wrong way. Instead, Margaret represents the breadth of the human experience.
I highly recommend Not Pink if you’re looking for a highly readable novel that touches on hard-hitting topics in a humanistic and psychological way. I can’t promise there’s a happy ending, per se, but you can’t help but feel hopeful.
Title: Not Pink
Author: Margaret Kasimatis
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Publication Year: 2018
Page Count: 252pp
Featured image: 1960s vintage fabric (Getty Images/CollectiveStudios)