Monday, November 16, 2009

Book Review: I'm Down, by Mishna Wolff

First off I have to tell you that in case you haven't noticed, I'm on somewhat of a memoir kick. And I prefer funny ones a la Jen Lancaster and David Sedaris but I'm not a complete loser. I'll read other ones too. Just not today.
So I can't even remember where I heard about this book, and it may have been on Jen Lancaster's summer reading list although let's be real- it's not summer now and I can't remember that far back. But I knew I wanted to read it and one day there it was. The lone copy on the wrong shelf looking at me. It was practically destiny. Our Barnes and Noble employees are getting slack on keeping the place tidy and orderly. Whatever.
So the premise of the book is Mishna is white (obviously from the cover) and is from a totally white family. Her dad however, believes he is black and after her parents divorce insists on raising Mishna and her sister, Anora as black people. Which is just dandy for Anora being the younger child, but Mishna is pretty white and the black kids let her know. She tries, throughout her childhood, to become black enough for her Dad who I am sure in his own mind tried to be a good dad. But what becomes an insight into poor America is the realization that Mishna is very much left to raise herself. She doesn't fit into the black neighborhood she lives in and really stands out at her rich white kid school so she never really belongs anywhere. She tries multiple sports and other activities to find the one thing she is really good at but her childhood is a struggle.
And it wasn't until the very end of the book when everything clicked into place for me and I suddenly realized why I felt so connected with Mishna. My childhood was very much like this and I continue to live in that "not sure where I really belong" middle ground. I'm white and grew up in a semi-white neighborhood when in Florida but we were poor but we didn't know any better. It wasn't until I grew up that I realized that we were poor and that wasn't going to change. And I have always struggled with trying to make my parents happy. I never really felt like I did anything that really stood out and made my parents brag about me. Sure, I got good grades and for the most part was a good kid. I had my faults as all kids do, but I wasn't really good at anything. When I went to a technical college and graduated I was proud of myself. But years later in a conversation (and truly, I can't remember what we were even talking about) I remember one of my parents said, "Yeah, but that's not a REAL college" and it really sunk me. I think my parents had higher aspirations for me to be something better. But to be honest, I like being a secretary. It requires me to be organized (check), detail oriented (check), I get to make and follow lists daily (check), and I deal with people (check). PLUS- office supplies are like the most fun thing ever. I can't even tell you how exciting it is to get new supplies. Back to School shopping is my 2nd Christmas.
Anyways. But I related to Mishna because I have often felt the way she felt. I had a great childhood and my parents did do a lot for us and worked very hard to give us what we had. And in truth- I think every kid grows up and later feels badly at something that was lacking in their childhood- it's unavoidable. There is always something.
But it is a great read, and I read it in 2 days so it's a good weekend book. And you root for Mishna the whole way through and then you thank god that your parents weren't racially confused. :)


Cristina said...

Wow, this sounds like a great read. I'm adding it to my already-way-too-long-must-read list!

It's Just Me said...

love love love Jen Lancaster!

Anonymous said...

I like the personal part of your review. Went to real college, but wht's the big deal about that.

(What brought me here is that I too seek world domination, in my case by writing a very technical ChaosBook, and google keeps me alerting on you posts. And then my wife's name is Sara without 'h,' though the chaos remain unorganized)

Cafe Fashionista said...

Ooh, thank you so much for reviewing this book. I have been contemplating purchasing it for the past few months; now I think I might! :)