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I'm Down: A Memoir Hardcover – May 26, 2009

118 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Humorist and former model Wolff details her childhood growing up in an all-black Seattle neighborhood with a white father who wanted to be black in this amusing memoir. Wolff never quite fit in with the neighborhood kids, despite her father's urgings that she make friends with the sisters on the block. Her father was raised in a similar neighborhood and—after a brief stint as a hippie in Vermont—returned to Seattle and settled into life as a self-proclaimed black man. Wolff and her younger, more outgoing sister, Anora, are taught to embrace all things black, just like their father and his string of black girlfriends. Just as Wolff finds her footing in the local elementary school (after having mastered the art of capping: think yo mama jokes), her mother, recently divorced from her father and living as a Buddhist, decides to enroll Wolff in the Individual Progress Program, a school for gifted children. Once again, Wolff finds herself the outcast among the wealthy white kids who own horses and take lavish vacations. While Wolff is adept at balancing humorous memories with more poignant moments of a daughter trying to earn her father's admiration, the result is more a series of vignettes than a cohesive memoir. (June)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

In this coming-of-age memoir, Wolff tackles an uncomfortable, even taboo subject: racial tension and a young white girl's attempt to assimilate into black culture. Most critics were greatly affected by Wolff's experiences -- many times hilarious and educational, but often quite sad. Wolff nonetheless maintains a light tone throughout as she details her childhood in rich dialogue and detail. A few reviewers commented that parts of her life read like a sitcom, albeit with little drama (or even trauma, the stuff of memoirs). Only the Washington Post diverged from other critics in its assessment that Wolff failed to explain her father's own interesting immersion in black culture. Most readers, however, will embrace both Wolff's and her father's stories.

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Product Details

  • Series: AWARDS: Arkansas Teen Awards 2011
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition, First Printing edition (May 26, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312378556
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312378554
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (118 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,118,071 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Beldini VINE VOICE on April 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
What a great book! Fun, moving, and with a really unexpected ending. Though the promo material highlights her childhood as a white girl in a black neighborhood, this memoir is a more sophisticated story--and more universal story -- of a child who can't find her place in her family. And the most moving aspect of this book is her success in finding a place in the world, and what it ultimately costs her. Yes, it's heartbreaking in places, but it's hysterical in others and most importantly -- the story is compelling. I literally couldn't put this book down and I have the circles under my eyes to prove it.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Zendicant Pangolin on April 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Wow, apart from a bird identification book, this is the very first amazon vine product that I might have purchased in 'real life' and I'm happy to say that this is definitely a worthwhile acquisition.
Before we begin let's establish what this book is not: It is not hilarious or tragic as a cover blurb indicates. It is also not, strictly speaking, truly autobiographical as the author declaims up front something to the effect that many of the things in the book might never have happened and that she uses composites of characters to represent distinct personalities in her story.
What this book is is a very charming, often poignant, quite incisive, well-told story based on the remembrances of a caucasian woman whose childhood was spent living in a deteriorating Seattle neighborhood with a father who chose to 'go black.'
Interestingly, it is also a real testimonial to the quality and effectiveness of the the Seattle public school system and civic organizations in their efforts to provide opportunities to its most promising albeit less privileged (read wealthy) chidren.
The story revolves around a white girl who, along with her younger sister remain in the custody of her ne'er do well father who has fashioned himself a black man in a white man's body. They live in an urban Seattle neighborhood which has become predominantly black; a change that the girls' father revels in.
The author does a wonderful job of describing the struggles and triumphs she experiences as she struggles with the multiple challenges of adolescence; parental divorce; racial comity, difference and divide; and familial and peer group strife.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer VINE VOICE on November 11, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Book Overview

Mishna Wolff was born to white hippie parents in Vermont. However, when her family moves back to Seattle, her father drops the pretense of being "a white man" and becomes the "black man" he fancies himself to be. Having grown up in a predominantly black neighborhood during his childhood, Mishna's father immerses himself in the speech patterns, clothing and culture of his black friends. He expects his daughters to do the same. For Mishna's younger sister Anora, this wasn't a problem. However, Mishna has a hard time finding her place in the neighborhood hierarchy of kids. And when her parents divorce and her mom moves out, she finds herself struggling to fit in. Left largely to her own devices, Mishna must find her own way to survive.

When her dad enrolls the girls in summer camp, Mishna is out of her element and regularly terrorized by the other children. But her quick wit and smarts help her find a survival strategy that works for her: capping. Capping is the fine art of "yo mama" jokes where participants engage in trading escalating insults. Mishna excels at capping, and it is her lifeline in the hard-knock world of kid society.

I was becoming a machine--or at least I thought I was. All I know is I had purpose:

1. Me ruling.
2. You sucking.

I had aspirations. I had goals. I had a lot of friends, and a lot of bruises.

But just as Mishna begins to fit in at the neighborhood, her mom steps in and gets her transferred to a school for gifted children. Feeling she has found her place in the world at last, Mishna is excited--even thought attending the school means a long commute on city buses. Alas, although Mishna finds herself with children who have the same skin tone, she is still an outsider.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Legend of a Cowgirl on April 26, 2011
Format: Paperback
This book is hard to rate because although I am African-American I had similar experiences as Mishna Wolff. The insult some of the reviewers feel is that the author is a white woman who experienced what many of us wish were "stereotypes"; however, in reality they do exist in the African-American community. I guess I can relate to the author's experiences because I was a child who not only had no athletic ability, liked to read encyclopedias, had no rhythm (a no-no), couldn't jump rope (that no rhythm curse) and hated fighting. I spent many days wanting to play with children my own age, but didn't want to be drawn into a fight or insulted. As a child, I did begin to befriend white children who did not like to fight and insult, but I received much flack about their friendships from my family. They actually preferred me to have friends who were black, even if they were mean.

I believe the author tried to soften the story with the impression that her experiences had more to do with economics. She wrote about her father's girlfriend, who was a nurse, who the author seems to feel was the most positive role model. She was much different than the other girlfriends and even the author's mother. She also tried to soften her impressions of African-Americans by giving examples of her white classmates who had very dysfunctional lives despite their luxurious lives.

The problems with the book are the following:
a. The author doesn't have any experiences (which she cared to divulge) with poor white people. Actually she doesn't have experiences with any white people besides her class and sports team mates, teachers, coaches, her parents and a brief mention of her uncle during a wedding. White people are mysteriously absent during her life,
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