When I Was White

When I Was White is an interesting memoir by Sarah Valentine who believed she was the child of two white parents until she was 27 when her mother told her that the man she had known as her father was not her father. Sarah questions her race her whole life, and it is not until she is an adult that she learns the truth. I really enjoyed this book until about the last third, where I felt the story floundered. While the author herself was floundering, I felt that the whole truth about her father was never fully fleshed out. I found it hard to believe that she went as long as she did without probing further and demanding answers, since she had been aggressive with her mother earlier in her life. It didn’t ring true (though it must be since this was a memoir). I would still recommend this read, as I enjoyed it, but I liked the first two thirds so much that I found that last bit a disappointment by comparison.

American Street

Having just said in my last post that I wasn’t usually into YA, I just finished another YA selection that I enjoyed. This one, American Street by Ibi Ziboi, was loaned to me by a colleague because of my interest in Haiti. It’s the story of a mother and daughter who are emigrating to America from Haiti. While the mother is detained, the daughter moves in with her aunt and cousins and learns about life in America and Detroit in particular. While overall, a depressing tale, this was a good and interesting read, based in some part on the author’s own story.

The 57 Bus

YA is not my usual thing. However, I had received The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater as a gift and thought it was worth trying. It’s the true story of Sasha and Richard who both take the 57 bus home from school in Oakland, CA. Sasha is white and comes home from a private school along this route and Richard is black and comes home from the large public Oakland High. They are only on the bus together for eight minutes, but in that window, Richard sees Sasha in a skirt (Sasha was born a boy) and sets that skirt on fire. The story is told in short chapters from both sides of the story. Slater is a journalist and the book had a journalistic feeling and was a quick read. I enjoyed the book (I wasn’t familiar with the story beforehand) and would highly recommend it for adults and teens. It’s enlightening both about transgender issues as well as juvenile incarceration.

Speaking of Summer

Speaking of Summer by Kalisha Buckhanon was on the NY Post Best Summer Reads list. Though I haven’t really enjoyed the other books from the list, I thought I woud give this one a go. It’s about twin sisters, one of whom goes missing under strange circumstances. This was a mystery with a twist and, while it was readable, I never really got into it and skimmed most of the way through. I figured out the mystery right before it was revealed. On the whole, this was OK, but not great. I guess I should give up on the NY Post!

The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11

The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett Graff was, of course, very difficult to read. At the same time, it was hard to put down. While we all know the overarching story of what happened on 9/11, this compilation draws “on never-before-published transcripts, recently declassified documents, original interviews, and oral histories from nearly five hundred government officials, first responders, witnesses, survivors, friends, and family members.” The perspectives and moving through the day in read time were fascinating. And, overall, it was really engrossing . I am so glad to have picked it up, even though it was emotionally taxing to read.

This Tender Land

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger felt like Huck Finn, Nickel Boys, and old-fashioned adventure stories all rolled into one. It had moments of excitement and interest for me, but overall, I didn’t love it. It was too long, too quiet, and too reminiscent of other books I have read. In a nutshell, it’s the story of boys who are at Lincoln School, a school where Native American children are sent to be educated after they have been separated from their parents. Two white orphaned brothers are also sent there and the younger of the brothers can’t stay out of trouble. The two siblings and two other friends finally run away. The book is the story of their friendship and journey. Amazon reports that if you liked “Where the Crawdads Sing” you will like this one. I beg to differ.


I’m not sure how Gold by Chris Cleve (of Little Bee fame) ended up on my list, but I enjoyed it. It’s the story of three Olympic-level track cyclists, two of whom are best friends and two of whom are married. The relationships are complicated and made even more so by the couple’s baby’s leukemia diagnosis and treatment. It certainly sucks you in and was about a topic I know nothing about, but it was a good choice. I’d recommend it.

Mrs. Everything

I really enjoyed Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner. It was chick lit for sure, but easier reading than some of the heavier material I have chosen of late. In addition, I love a family saga that takes place over time. At the heart of this one are two sisters, Jo and Bethie who struggle in different ways over the course of their lives with the death of their father. It is told from each sister’s point of view in alternating chapters. I found it hard to put down and overall, (even while chick lit) deeper than I expected and moving.

The Yellow House

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the much-talked-about memoir, The Yellow House, for Christmas (thanks, Pat). I so rarely own a hardback that it was nice to not have to worry about speedily reading it to return it. I feel like everytime I turned around in 2019, this book was written up or talked about and I was glad to have it on my nightstand. I enjoyed it, but not as much as I thought I would based on the hype. The story really is about the house and the family therein, but it left me with so many questions. I wanted to dive deeper into the family members and into what happened post Katrina. I suppose other authors have gotten deep about the devastation, but I expected this one to more than it did. Overall, it was good, but not great for me.

Five Days Gone: The Mystery of My Mother’s Disappearance as a Child

Five Days Gone: The Mystery of My Mother’s Disappearance as a Child by Laura Cumming was a memoir with a fascinating premise – when she was three, Laura’s mother was kidnapped and then returned to her family. Her mother doesn’t remember this kidnapping, but discovers that she was adopted and that her name was changed from Grace to Betty at the same time. The book walks you through the mystery that was Betty’s life. While the book was certainly interesting and what a terrible thing to do to a child, ultimately, there was something cold and missing from the story. I wish I had noticed before I read it that it only had 3.5 stars on Amazon. It continues to bear true that whenever a book has less than 4 stars, I don’t like it either. Ah well. At least it was short.