Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Nonfiction Files

The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.

I'm joined in The Nonfiction Files by Jehara. If you would like to play along with us, let me know!

My current read is Secret Daughter: A Mixed-Race Daughter and the Mother who Gave Her Away by June Cross.

Synopsis from publisher:

June Cross was born in 1954 to Norma Booth, a glamorous, aspiring white actress, and James “Stump” Cross, a well-known black comedian. Sent by her mother to be raised by black friends when she was four years old and could no longer pass as white, June was plunged into the pain and confusion of a family divided by race. Secret Daughter tells her story of survival. It traces June’s astonishing discoveries about her mother and about her own fierce determination to thrive. This is an inspiring testimony to the endurance of love between mother and daughter, a child and her adoptive parents, and the power of community.

My thoughts so far:

I'm having a couple of different reactions to this book so far. Initially, I found myself feeling extremely angry with June's mother - she seemed to make a string of pretty poor choices, which led her to virtually abandon June because she was "inconvenient". I also felt angry with Aunt Peggy, the woman who raised June, because while I understand she took in June as a kindness, and truly loved her and took care of her the best she could, she also enabled June's mother in relinquishing her responsibilities.

But as I read further, I started to understand her decision better. I still don't know that I think what she did was okay, but I get that she probably felt like she didn't have other options, and that what she did was in June's best interest. She did at least provide a safe, caring environment for her daughter, and I could appreciate that.

June is still a girl throughout the first section of the book, so much of the time she is confused and unsure as she tries to figure out how to navigate between the two different worlds she is forced to live in. It's impossible not to feel for her - I felt like I just wanted to hug her much of the time. She is obviously very close to the story, and yet is able to talk about her mother without bitterness. It's clear the two had an odd but ultimately loving relationship.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the portrayal of race relations in the 1950s and 60s. In particular, the discussion of "passing" and it's importance at the time has been fascinating. I'm looking forward to the next stage of June's journey.

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