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Did You Hear About Kitty Karr? by Crystal Smith Paul

Historical fiction

Did You Hear About Kitty Karr?

Debut

We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Crystal Smith Paul, on your first book!

by Crystal Smith Paul

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Quick take

One woman’s decision to pass as white reverberates through generations in this riveting exploration of race and fame.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, 400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Social_Issues

    Social issues

  • Illustrated icon, Movieish

    Movieish

  • Illustrated icon, Glamorous

    Glamorous

Synopsis

A multigenerational saga that traverses the Jim Crow South, the glamour of old Hollywood, and the seductive draw of present-day showbiz as secrets split a family tree into Black, white, and something in between.

When white silver screen icon Kitty Karr Tate dies and bequeaths her multimillion-dollar estate to the three Black St. John sisters, it prompts questions.

A celebrity in her own right, Elise St. John would rather focus on sorting out Kitty’s affairs than deal with the press. But what she discovers in one of Kitty’s journals rocks her world harder than any other brewing scandal could—and between a cheating fiancé and fallout from a controversial social media post, there are plenty. And if this isn’t enough, her Vogue shoot has been complicated by the arrival of Jasper, a handsome and knowing photographer who may offer Elise a chance at her most authentic pose yet—if she can defy her publicist, plan Kitty’s memorial, and figure out how she really feels under the harsh gaze of the paparazzi, the public. The discovery that her longtime neighbor and mentor was her grandmother, a Black woman who had been passing for white for over sixty years, threatens to expose a web of unexpected family ties, debts owed, and debatable crimes that could, with one pull, unravel the all-American fabric of her sisters and those closest to them.

Did You Hear About Kitty Karr? is a sprawling tale that explores the celebrity machine, the burdens of being Black­, the privileges gained by fading to white, and the power that family secrets have to erode and complicate the lives of future generations.

Content warning

This book contains scenes depicting sexual assault.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Did You Hear About Kitty Karr?

Did You Hear About Kitty Karr?

CHAPTER 1

Elise

Saturday morning, October 28, 2017

Elise never went to sleep, and she wasn’t the only one. Her father was tucked away in his musical bunker. Her mother was pacing, hidden deep in the labyrinth, but every so often Elise could hear her feet kicking up gravel. Situated steps from the back porch of the St. John estate, the labyrinth was constructed of leafy green hedges and rose bushes that increased in height and girth further into the maze.

It was cloudy, and the only light was from the spokes of the Ferris wheel. It sat low on the fourth tier of their property, so only half of it was visible from the house. It was a gift, given to her mother more than two decades ago by a French director courting her for a film she ultimately declined. Her mother thought it was an eyesore but kept it for the sake of good conversation. Visitors likened it to a giant dream catcher, fitting considering that what and who lay behind its presence mirrored the collected, albeit programmed, wants of many. It was a symbol of celebrity, a club into which everyone wanted entry—a partition between gods and mortals. From the Perch, Elise did feel somewhat godly.

Not meant for sitting, the six-by-six wooden landing was situated below the apex of Elise’s childhood home. Suspended amid the canopy of the thick sycamore branches, it was hidden from those on the ground but had an enchanted bird’s-eye view of the four-tiered grounds and the entirety of Los Angeles below the hill upon which the St. John estate sat. That week it was Elise’s refuge.

Sequestered for a week already, Elise found her stress now was compounded by her sisters’ pending arrival. Physical proximity would force the closeness that only a shared childhood could bring. Everything had changed overnight, and she didn’t know how to pretend with them that it hadn’t. Elise could mimic emotions she didn’t feel on command but had no ability to express the ones that were true.

She stayed on the Perch until her 6:00 am alarm for her workout, mandatory for her anxiety management. That morning she finished the entire hour and still felt unsettled.

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Why I love it

Before I even opened this book, I was intrigued. Who wouldn’t be with the title: Did You Hear About Kitty Karr? No, I had not heard about Kitty Karr, but from that moment, I wanted to meet her. After just the first few words of the opening chapter, I was drawn into the lives of Kitty Karr and all who knew and loved her as they came together to celebrate a life well-lived.

Wait . . . Kitty was dead? But I wanted to meet her. Then quickly, I realized that Did You Hear About Kitty Karr? was both a compelling contemporary story and brilliantly written historical novel—it doesn’t get any better than that.

The story of Elise St. John and her entire family captured me from the beginning with the kind of familial dysfunction that comes when you mix glamorous Hollywood, sibling rivalry, and mother issues. Then, the author took me back almost ninety years into the Jim Crow South where a struggling Black mother would do anything to give her fair-skinned daughter a better chance in life.

Of course I knew those two worlds would come together. I just couldn’t figure out how. And then when they collided, the stakes were raised even higher. The twists, the turns, the secrets, and the numerous gasp-out-loud moments; I loved every page of this fascinating, multigenerational family saga. This scintillating debut has pushed Crystal Smith Paul to the top of my must-read authors list.

Member ratings (10,456)

  • Michelle B.

    Alexandria, VA

    This book was beautifully written about a woman who want her daughter to have more then she had. About daughter who had to give up her pass to pass as white. A MUST read! Chefs kiss!⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️❤️❤️❤️

  • Alana K.

    WINDERMERE, FL

    Evelyn Hugo meets The Vanishing Half! While I felt like it stayed in the earlier time line a bit too long at times,and I’d forget about the later timeline, it was a thoroughly enjoyable read. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Yvette A.

    South Chesterfield, VA

    This was a fantastic read! There is a little bit of a confusing slow start … but stick with it! It’s quite necessary and it picks up quickly. If you loved “The Vanishing Half” you’d love this story.

  • Melissa R.

    Windsor, ON

    At the beginning you’ll feel like you want to throw in the towel, it’s a bit choppy, doesn’t necessarily “flow” . Once you start to get into Kitty’s story you are rewarded with a amazing storyline

  • Ashley S.

    Pike Road, AL

    A southern meets Hollywood 1950s/60s “historical” novel in which light-skinned black women pass as white and use their status to influence the people around them to reach for equality. It’s brilliant!

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Historical fiction
View all
Lady Tan’s Circle of Women
The Women
The Lion Women of Tehran
Husbands & Lovers
Shelterwood
A Thousand Times Before
All We Were Promised
Spitting Gold
The Mayor of Maxwell Street
The Great Divide
The Storm We Made
The Disappearance of Astrid Bricard
Lessons in Chemistry
The Frozen River
What We Kept to Ourselves
The River We Remember
Take My Hand
The Last Russian Doll
The First Ladies
The House Is On Fire
River Sing Me Home
The People We Keep
The Attic Child
Malibu Rising
The Book of Longings
Hester
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
The Nightingale
Daisy Jones & The Six
The Lincoln Highway
The Secret Book of Flora Lea
Did You Hear About Kitty Karr?
The Circus Train
Peach Blossom Spring
Hang the Moon
Booth
The Good Left Undone
The Perishing
The Postmistress of Paris
The Family
Things We Lost to the Water
The Spectacular
Still Life
Send for Me
The Magnolia Palace
The Bookbinder
China Room
This Tender Land
Atomic Love
All the Light We Cannot See
The Vanishing Half
Outlawed
The Four Winds
Independence
The Fountains of Silence
Libertie
Queen of Thieves
The Great Believers
The Clockmaker's Daughter
A Gentleman in Moscow
The Great Alone
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
The Paris Hours
The Heart’s Invisible Furies
Rules of Civility
Circling the Sun
The Moor's Account
Jacqueline in Paris
Don't Cry for Me
The Christie Affair
Bloomsbury Girls
The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle
Bronze Drum