When I Was White: Book summary and reviews of When I Was White by Sarah Valentine

When I Was White

by Sarah Valentine

When I Was White by Sarah Valentine X
When I Was White by Sarah Valentine
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Book Summary

The stunning and provocative coming-of-age memoir about Sarah Valentine's childhood as a white girl in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, and her discovery that her father was a black man.

At the age of 27, Sarah Valentine discovered that she was not, in fact, the white girl she had always believed herself to be. She learned the truth of her paternity: that her father was a black man. And she learned the truth about her own identity: mixed race.

And so Sarah began the difficult and absorbing journey of changing her identity from white to black. In this memoir, Sarah details the story of the discovery of her identity, how she overcame depression to come to terms with this identity, and, perhaps most importantly, asks: why? Her entire family and community had conspired to maintain her white identity. The supreme discomfort her white family and community felt about addressing issues of race–-her race–-is a microcosm of race relationships in America.

A black woman who lived her formative years identifying as white, Sarah's story is a kind of Rachel Dolezal in reverse, though her "passing" was less intentional than conspiracy. This memoir is an examination of the cost of being black in America, and how one woman threw off the racial identity she'd grown up with, in order to embrace a new one.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"The narrative moves fluidly between past and present as Valentine tries to make sense of the lies and misconceptions that have plagued her throughout her life...This is a disturbing and engrossing tale of deep family secrets." - Publishers Weekly

"Valentine's journey of self-discovery is affecting, a hard-won quest to arrive at an origin story that suits the facts rather than turns away from them. A valuable contribution to the literature of race and its problematics." - Kirkus Reviews

"In this startlingly honest and yet tender memoir, Sarah Valentine unpacks the story of a young woman whose life is shattered by a dark family secret...This book leans beautifully into transformation and a well-earned grace. A perfect book for our times." - Chris Abani, author of GraceLand and The Secret History of Las Vegas

This information about When I Was White was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Author Information

Sarah Valentine

Sarah Valentine, Ph.D., is a widely published author and translator whose interests include writing about Black and mixed-race experience, mystery, horror, true crime, folklore, and ghost stories. In 2013 she was a Lannan Foundation Writers Fellow and has taught literature and creative writing at Princeton, University of California-Los Angeles, University of California-Riverside, and Northwestern University. When I Was White is her memoir about growing up in Pittsburgh as a mixed race African American in a white family where her true identity was a deeply held secret. In the book she explores the painful process of breaking family taboos, dealing with depression, searching for her biological father and learning what it means to be Black in America.

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