Come a Stranger is one of several novels by Voigt set in Crisfield, Maryland, a small town located on the eastern shores of Chesapeake Bay. The time is the latter half of the 1970s. Mina lives in a closely knit, predominantly black neighborhood where her father is pastor of a church. They are a large family of six children, although Eleanor is married and Charles Stuart is away at college. The story takes Mina from age ten through age fifteen, through fifth grade in her neighborhood elementary school, where black children are in the majority, to high school where Mina becomes one of the minority. Her mother points out to her that in terms of power, her role as a woman makes Mina a member of a second minority. Mina vows that neither being black nor being a woman shall stand in the way of her being her own person. In this story of growth and maturation, family life is important, and it is the environs in which she is raised that aid Mina in emerging into an independent, warmly caring young woman.
Come a Stranger deals with the African American experience through the eyes of its protagonist Mina Smiths. In Mina, Voigt has created a strong central character who is worthy of admiration and emulation, and reading of her can only increase racial understanding for Come a Stranger's audience. The reader comes to know Mina in a personal way as she changes from a ten-year-old, wondering why God made some people black and some white and why she is one of the black ones, to a fifteen-year-old exuding pride in the woman she has become.
The book is without intense conflict and internal tension, and its primary worth is not in the story it tells but in the insights it reveals about Mina's inner growth and the destination at which she arrives. Mina learns to "look with a long eye" and to appreciate the struggles, as well as the progress, of African Americans in the years since slavery. She experiences prejudice and learns to deal with it; she resists the temptation to act out of prejudice herself; and she learns to develop friendships based on the person. At fifteen Mina rejoices in her growth "upwards . . . from the strong tangled roots of her life," and the reader rejoices with her, having witnessed the circuitous path she has followed.
In addition to a strong central character who gives perception to the African American experience, there are other fine literary qualities in the book: 1) Voigt writes in precise, forceful prose; 2) She counterbalances the presentation of difficult issues with humor and wit; 3) She interjects dance terminology to give the story authenticity and anchors the story in actual locales; and 4) The book also adds information to the saga of the Tillermans begun in earlier novels and followed with intense interest by their fans. The sorrow Tamer Shipp feels over the unresolved issue of Bullet is shared by readers of The Runner, and Tamer's making peace "with a long grief" gives a kind of closure to Bullet's death.
(The entire section is 1,126 words.)