I've got a great, light summer read for adults and older teens out there, Mishna Wolff's I'm Down A Memoir. It's hard to believe that a book which concerns itself with race, poverty, divorce, and identity issues can manage to be a light summer read, but this one does. Without being exploitative, Wolff, a white woman, tells her experience of being raised in a poor urban black neighborhood by her white father who believed he was black. She writes of him, "He strutted around with a short perm, a Cosby-esque sweater, gold chains, and a Kangol-telling jokes like Redd Foxx and giving advice like Jesse Jackson. You couldn't tell my father he was white. Believe me, I tried."
Wolff's entire childhood seemed to be her father trying to make her down. Much of the humor and sadness in this memoir lie in how she fell short of that goal. Being down came much more easily to her younger sister Anora. Both lived with their father when their parents divorced, but eventually the author moved in with her mother and attended an academically rigorous and predominantly white school. This led to further identity conflict. While her situation is certainly unique, Wolff's central story of a girl wanting to belong and to please her parents is universal. For that reason, I think it's a good book to give to a teenager looking for something to read this summer. Plus, it's funny.