Tuesday, February 9, 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. You can read my first post about this book here.

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:

Interestingly enough, I am finding myself even more involved in June's life as she gets older - she is beginning to look at life on her own terms, form her own opinions, and realize just what the decisions made by and for her have done to her life, and she becomes more fascinating as she grows.

June's mother continues to hurt her, coming up with stories about how she "adopted" the little girl across the hall, and even allowing a rumor to perpetrate that June was actually her stepfather's biological child from an affair he had with Pearl Bailey. It is an interesting comment on the society of the time that a mixed-race child born to a white man would have been significantly more acceptable than a mixed-race child born to a white woman.

June continues to struggle with issues of identity, trying to conform to both white and black expectations at different times in her life. In both communities she is challenged - for trying to "fit in" too much with white society, and for "pretending" to be truly black. For the first time, she is able to identify her feelings of anger at her mother, and at Aunt Peggy, for the deceptions of her childhood.

Probably the most painful part of the book so far for me was the section involving Uncle Paul's death. Paul was Aunt Peggy's husband, and had been the primary father figure in June's life after she was left with them by her mother. While they had tension in their relationship, they grew to genuinely love each other, and Paul encouraged June's interests in several areas. After his death, June discovered that she wasn't listed as one of is family members in the obituary, because she wasn't a "blood relative" - never mind that he had raised her for most of her life. I could feel June's pain as, once again, she was considered not worthy to be a part of the family. It was heartbreaking.

June tells her story with such courage and grace - still not pointing fingers or attaching blame, she simply lays out the circumstances as they happen. While she was obviously treated unfairly, she still clearly holds so much love for her mother and the other members of her family. I'm very interested to see where the relationships go now that June is done with college and heading off to make her way in the world.

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