Debra Dickerson's fiercely honest account of her journey from the black working class to the ivied halls of Harvard Law School couldn't be more aptly titled. What's more American than someone who reaches a political turning point as a result of buying a lousy car? At the time, Dickerson was a conservative supporter of Ronald Reagan who believed her north St. Louis neighbors were poor and jobless because of their personal failings--and of course, it wasn't really her lemon of a Renault Alliance that changed her mind. But after years of struggling to get an education while her brother Bobby threw away every opportunity, after finding an apparent refuge in the Air Force (just as her bitter, violent father had during World War II in the Marines), Dickerson was appalled that "a blameless person in uniform" was expected, by everyone from her superior officers to the lawyers she tried to hire to help her, to make payments on a car that wouldn't run. "That experience made it crystal clear to me whose side society was on," she writes. Without abandoning her belief in personal responsibility, Dickerson began to reassess her contempt for people like her brother, who had made mistakes but had never been given any margin for error. Her reconciliation with Bobby is the most moving moment in a book notable for its bruising candor on the uncomfortable subjects of race and class, as well as its complete lack of political and cultural platitudes. --Wendy Smith
From Publishers Weekly
HFollowing a controversial 1995 New Republic article about the shooting of her nephew, Dickerson became a popular commentator on race and society in America. In her first book, she again stirs the cauldron with a no-holds barred look at her humble Midwestern beginnings, scrappy clan, career strivings and personal miscues and victories. Rarely does a memoir strip away so much emotional armor to expose so many defects as well as strengths. A lawyer with a Harvard Law School pedigree and journalist with bylines in many leading national publications, Dickerson first turns her unflinching gaze upon her struggling parents, sharecroppers who had migrated to north St. Louis, whom she analyzes in painstaking detail. She admits the brutal psychological effects of her father's iron-fisted rule and life in an inner-city environment, which left her with a growing burden of self-doubt and self-hatred that only subsided upon her entry into the Air Force at age 21. A minor flaw is Dickerson's reluctance to examine her other four siblings with the same razor-sharp scrutiny that she applies to her youngest brother, Bobby, who als0 endured emotional abuse by their father. If Dickerson is ruthless in her appraisal of others, she is twice as hard on her own shortcomings, especially the views about poor and lower-working-class blacks trapped in poverty and despair she held as a young woman. Her display of courage following a rape, along with her gritty determination to excel at Harvard, attests to the complexity and resilience of this chameleon of a woman. This tough, sassy memoir dramatically underscores the importance of hope, family and truth in one person's quest to reach and sustain her version of the American dream. Agent, Ronald Golddfarb. First printing 75,000; 9-city author tour. (Sept.)
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