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Book Review: "Real American, a memoir"

by Julie Lythcott-Haims

No one likes to be placed in a box, yet we all appreciate having somewhere we feel comfortable being ourselves. Julie Lythcott-Haim’s memoir, REAL AMERICAN fabulously portrays her journey from being either “white” like her British mother or “black” like her African American father to finding a home as “biracial,” a phrase that didn’t exist until the 1990s.

Through lyrical and poignant vignettes, the author shows the complex conundrum of living in a society where having any black features designates a person as such, all while growing up in a mostly white Midwestern community.

While in her early youth, she and her parents lived in a diverse area of Las Vegas, most of the author's childhood was spent in an affluent suburb of Madison, WI. In every way she was like those around her. Her mother was a homemaker and her father a highly respected doctor. The author talked and dressed like her peers and had many of the same desires — to have a boyfriend, be a cheerleader and take part in school events.

Yet certain features of her appearance led to microaggressions that reminded her she wasn’t like everyone else, but instead one of two black students in the entire high school. In one of many demeaning instances, a parent insinuated the author must have gotten into Stanford University because she’d drawn the race card. Only when she reached college did she find others like herself, young adults who felt American, but were treated as “other” by a society that perceived them as a suspicious, uncategorizable mix of races and ethnicities.

The author accomplishes the feat of any exceptional memoirist by showing the undercurrent of complex experiences that blow up her idealistic view of what it is to be American, while also identifying with all of us who at one time or another feel isolated and misunderstood.

A truly fascinating read.


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