The Gilded Years

A Novel

The Gilded Years

SOON TO BE ADAPTED FOR FILM in A White Lie, a major motion picture, starring and produced by Zendaya in collaboration with Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine.

“Tanabe immerses the reader in a world of romance and manners, but also leaves you gripping the edge of your seat…An elegant and extremely gratifying imagining of one remarkable woman's life.” —USA TODAY

“Think: 'Gatsby' meets college meets an impressive beach read.” —theSkimm

An Us Weekly “Sizzling Summer Read” * A Time Magazine Summer Read

Since childhood, Anita Hemmings has longed to attend the country’s most exclusive school for women, Vassar College. Now, a bright, beautiful senior in the class of 1897, she is hiding a secret that would have banned her from admission: Anita is the only African-American student ever to attend Vassar. With her olive complexion and dark hair, this daughter of a janitor and descendant of slaves has successfully passed as white, but now finds herself rooming with Louise “Lottie” Taylor, the scion of one of New York’s most prominent families.

Though Anita has kept herself at a distance from her classmates, Lottie’s sphere of influence is inescapable, her energy irresistible, and the two become fast friends. Pulled into her elite world, Anita learns what it’s like to be treated as a wealthy, educated white woman—the person everyone believes her to be—and even finds herself in a heady romance with a moneyed Harvard student. It’s only when Lottie becomes infatuated with Anita’s brother, Frederick, whose skin is almost as light as his sister’s, that the situation becomes particularly perilous. And as Anita’s college graduation looms, those closest to her will be the ones to dangerously threaten her secret.

Set against the vibrant backdrop of the Gilded Age, an era when old money traditions collided with modern ideas, Tanabe has written an unputdownable and emotionally compelling story of hope, sacrifice, and betrayal—and a gripping account of how one woman dared to risk everything for the chance at a better life.
  • Washington Square Press | 
  • 400 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781501110450 | 
  • June 2016
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Gilded Years includes discussion questions and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. At the end of the novel, Ellen Love remarks of Vassar College that “part of us will always be here” (page 372). What is the significance of location in the novel? How do Vassar, Manhattan, and Boston shape Anita and Lottie? In your own experience, are there places that you feel have shaped you in similar ways? Do you think you’d be willing to give up part of who you are to keep those places in your life?

2. The Gilded Years depicts a time when the attitude towards women’s education and the prioritization of marriage was shifting in the United States. Did anything surprise you about characters’ opinions on these topics? Were they more or less similar to your own feelings or goals than you expected? If so, how?

3. “It is not an escape. . . .When one passes for a higher purpose, it’s worth it. . . .” (page 50). Do you agree with this sentiment? Why or why not?

4. At Bessie’s wedding, Anita considers the paths she and her friend have taken given their similar backgrounds, and wonders wh see more

More Books from this Author

The Diplomat's Daughter
The Price of Inheritance
The List

About the Author

Karin Tanabe
Photograph by Julian Barton

Karin Tanabe

Karin Tanabe is the author of The Gilded Years, The Price of Inheritance, and The List. A former Politico reporter, her writing has also appeared in the Miami Herald, Chicago Tribune, Newsday, and The Washington Post. She has made frequent appearances as a celebrity and politics expert on Entertainment Tonight, CNN, and The CBS Early Show. A graduate of Vassar College, Karin lives in Washington, DC. To learn more visit