The incredible modern classic that Oprah.com calls one of the best memoirs of a generation and launched James McBride’s literary career.
Over two years on The New York Times bestseller list
Who is Ruth McBride Jordan? A self-declared "light-skinned" woman evasive about her ethnicity, yet steadfast in her love for her twelve black children. James McBride, journalist, musician, and son, explores his mother's past, as well as his own upbringing and heritage, in a poignant and powerful debut, The Color Of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother.
The son of a black minister and a woman who would not admit she was white, James McBride grew up in "orchestrated chaos" with his eleven siblings in the poor, all-black projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn. "Mommy," a fiercely protective woman with "dark eyes full of pep and fire," herded her brood to Manhattan's free cultural events, sent them off on buses to the best (and mainly Jewish) schools, demanded good grades, and commanded respect. As a young man, McBride saw his mother as a source of embarrassment, worry, and confusion—and reached thirty before he began to discover the truth about her early life and long-buried pain.
In The Color of Water, McBride retraces his mother's footsteps and, through her searing and spirited voice, recreates her remarkable story. The daughter of a failed itinerant Orthodox rabbi, she was born Rachel Shilsky (actually Ruchel Dwara Zylska) in Poland on April 1, 1921. Fleeing pogroms, her family emigrated to America and ultimately settled in Suffolk, Virginia, a small town where anti-Semitism and racial tensions ran high. With candor and immediacy, Ruth describes her parents' loveless marriage; her fragile, handicapped mother; her cruel, sexually-abusive father; and the rest of the family and life she abandoned.
At seventeen, after fleeing Virginia and settling in New York City, Ruth married a black minister and founded the all- black New Brown Memorial Baptist Church in her Red Hook living room. "God is the color of water," Ruth McBride taught her children, firmly convinced that life's blessings and life's values transcend race. Twice widowed, and continually confronting overwhelming adversity and racism, Ruth's determination, drive and discipline saw her dozen children through college—and most through graduate school. At age 65, she herself received a degree in social work from Temple University.
Interspersed throughout his mother's compelling narrative, McBride shares candid recollections of his own experiences as a mixed-race child of poverty, his flirtations with drugs and violence, and his eventual self- realization and professional success. The Color of Water touches readers of all colors as a vivid portrait of growing up, a haunting meditation on race and identity, and a lyrical valentine to a mother from her son.
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About the Author
Hometown:Bucks County, Pennsylvania
Date of Birth:1957
Place of Birth:New York, New York
Education:Oberlin Conservatory of Music; M.A., Columbia University School of Journalism
Read an Excerpt
When I was fourteen, my mother took up two new hobbies: riding a bicycle and playing piano. The piano I didn’t mind, but the bicycle drove me crazy. It was a huge old clunker, blue with white trim, with big fat tires, huge fenders, and a battery-powered horn built into the middle of the frame with a button you pushed to make it blow. The contraption would be a collector’s item now, probably worth about five thousand dollars, but back then it was something my step- father found on the street in Brooklyn and hauled home a few months before he died.
I don’t know whether it was his decision to pull out or not, but I think not. He was seventy-two when he died, trim, strong, easygoing, seemingly infallible, and though he was my stepfather, I always thought of him as Daddy. He was a quiet, soft-spoken man who wore old-timey clothes, fedoras, button-down wool coats, suspenders, and dressed neatly at all times, regardless of how dirty his work made him. He did everything slowly and carefully, but beneath his tractor- like slowness and outward gentleness was a crossbreed of quiet Indian and country black man, surefooted, hard, bold, and quick. He took no guff and gave none. He married my mother, a white Jewish woman, when she had eight mixed- race black children, me being the youngest at less than a year old. They added four more children to make it an even twelve and he cared for all of us as if we were his own. ‘‘I got enough for a baseball team,’’ he joked. One day he was there, the next—a stroke, and he was gone.
I virtually dropped out of high school after he died, failing every class. I spent the year going to movies on Forty-second Street in Times Square with my friends. ‘‘James is going through his revolution,’’ my siblings snickered. Still, my sisters were concerned, my older brothers angry. I ignored them. Me and my hanging-out boys were into the movies. Superfly, Shaft, and reefer, which we smoked in as much quantity as possible. I snatched purses. I shoplifted. I even robbed a petty drug dealer once. And then in the afternoons, coming home after a day of cutting school, smoking reefer, waving razors, and riding the subway, I would see my mother pedaling her blue bicycle.
She would ride in slow motion across our street, Mur- dock Avenue in the St. Albans section of Queens, the only white person in sight, as cars swerved around her and black motorists gawked at the strange, middle-aged white lady riding her ancient bicycle. It was her way of grieving, though I didn’t know it then. Hunter Jordan, my stepfather, was dead. Andrew McBride, my biological father, had died while she was pregnant with me fourteen years earlier. It was clear that Mommy was no longer interested in getting married again, despite the efforts of a couple of local preachers who were all Cadillacs and smiles and knew that she, and thus we, were broke. At fifty-one she was still slender and pretty, with curly black hair, dark eyes, a large nose, a sparkling smile, and a bowlegged walk you could see a mile off. We used to call that ‘‘Mommy’s madwalk,’’ and if she was doing it in your direction, all hell was gonna break loose. I’d seen her go up to some pretty tough dudes and shake her fist in their faces when she was angry—but that was before Daddy died. Now she seemed intent on playing the piano, dodging bill collectors, forcing us into college through sheer willpower, and riding her bicycle all over Queens. She refused to learn how to drive. Daddy’s old car sat out front for weeks, parked at the curb. Silent. Clean. Polished. Every day she rode her bike right past it, ignoring it.
The image of her riding that bicycle typified her whole existence to me. Her oddness, her complete nonawareness of what the world thought of her, a nonchalance in the face of what I perceived to be imminent danger from blacks and whites who disliked her for being a white person in a black world. She saw none of it. She rode so slowly that if you looked at her from a distance it seemed as if she weren’t moving, the image frozen, painted against the spring sky, a middle-aged white woman on an antique bicycle with black kids zipping past her on Sting-Ray bikes and skateboards, popping wheelies and throwing baseballs that whizzed past her head, tossing firecrackers that burst all around her. She ignored it all. She wore a flower-print dress and black loafers, her head swiveling back and forth as she rode shakily past the triangle curve where I played stickball with my friends, up Lewiston Avenue, down the hill on Mayville Street where a lovely kid named Roger got killed in a car accident, back up the hill on Murdock, over the driveway curb, and to the front of our house. She would stop, teetering shakily, catching herself just before the bike collapsed onto the sidewalk. ‘‘Whew!’’ she’d say, while my siblings, camped on the stoop of our house to keep an eye on her, shook their heads. My sister Dotty would say, ‘‘I sure wish you wouldn’t ride that bike, Ma,’’ and I silently agreed, because I didn’t want my friends seeing my white mother out there riding a bicycle. She was already white, that was bad enough, but to go out and ride an old bike that went out of style a hundred years ago? And a grown-up no less? I couldn’t handle it.
As a boy, I always thought my mother was strange. She never cared to socialize with our neighbors. Her past was a mystery she refused to discuss. She drank tea out of a glass. She could speak Yiddish. She had an absolute distrust of authority and an insistence on complete privacy which seemed to make her, and my family, even odder. My family was huge, twelve kids, unlike any other family I’d ever seen, so many of us that at times Mommy would call us by saying, ‘‘Hey James—Judy-Henry-Hunter-Kath—whatever your name is, come here a minute.’’ It wasn’t that she forgot who we were, but there were so many of us, she had no time for silly details like names. She was the commander in chief of my house, because my stepfather did not live with us. He lived in Brooklyn until near the end of his life, staying away from the thronging masses to come home on weekends, bearing food and tricycles and the resolve to fix whatever physical thing we had broken during the week. The nuts and bolts of raising us was left to Mommy, who acted as chief surgeon for bruises (‘‘Put iodine on it’’), war secretary (‘‘If somebody hits you, take your fist and crack ’em’’), religious consultant (‘‘Put God first’’), chief psychologist (‘‘Don’t think about it’’), and financial adviser (‘‘What’s money if your mind is empty?’’). Matters involving race and identity she ignored.
As a kid, I remember wishing I were in the TV show Father Knows Best, where the father comes home from work every day wearing a suit and tie and there are only enough kids to fit on his lap, instead of in my house, where we walked around with huge holes in our pants, cheap Bo-Bo sneakers that cost $1.99 at John’s Bargains store, with parents who were busy and distracted, my stepfather appearing only on weekends in sleeveless T-shirt, tools in hand, and Mommy bearing diapers, pins, washcloths, Q-tips, and a child in each arm with another pulling at her dress. She barely had time to wipe the behind of one child before an- other began screaming at the top of her lungs. Back in the Red Hook Housing Projects in Brooklyn, where we lived before moving to the relative bliss of St. Albans, Queens, Mommy put us to bed each night like slabs of meat, laying us out three and four to a bed, one with his head to the headboard, the next with his feet to the headboard, and so on. ‘‘Head up, toes down,’’ she called it as she kissed us good night and laid us out in the proper position. The moment she left the room we’d fight over who got to sleep next to the wall. ‘‘I got the inside!’’ I’d shout, and Richard, the brother above me and thus my superior, would shake his head and say, ‘‘No, no, no. David sleeps on the inside. I have the middle. You, knucklehead, have the outside,’’ so all night I’d inhale David’s breath and eat Richie’s toes, and when I couldn’t stand the combination of toes and breath any longer I’d turn over and land on the cold cement floor with a clunk.
It was kill or be killed in my house, and Mommy understood that, in fact created the system. You were left to your own devices or so you thought until you were at your very wits’ end, at which time she would step in and rescue you. I was terrified when it came my turn to go to school. Although P.S. 118 was only eight blocks away, I wasn’t allowed to walk there with my siblings because kindergarten students were required to ride the bus. On the ill-fated morning, Mommy chased me all around the kitchen trying to dress me as my siblings laughed at my terror. ‘‘The bus isn’t bad,’’ one quipped, ‘‘except for the snakes.’’ Another added, ‘‘Sometimes the bus never brings you home.’’ Guffaws all around.
‘‘Be quiet,’’ Mommy said, inspecting my first-day-of- school attire. My clothes were clean, but not new. The pants had been Billy’s, the shirt was David’s, the coat had been passed down from Dennis to Billy to David to Richie to me. It was a gray coat with a fur collar that had literally been chewed up by somebody. Mommy dusted it off with a whisk broom, set out eight or nine bowls, poured oatmeal in each one, left instructions for the eldest to feed the rest, then ran a comb through my hair. The sensation was like a tractor pulling my curls off. ‘‘C’mon,’’ she said, ‘‘I’ll walk you to the bus stop.’’ Surprise reward. Me and Mommy alone. It was the first time I remember ever being alone with my mother.
It became the high point of my day, a memory so sweet it is burned into my mind like a tattoo, Mommy walking me to the bus stop and every afternoon picking me up, standing on the corner of New Mexico and 114th Road, clad in a brown coat, her black hair tied in a colorful scarf, watching with the rest of the parents as the yellow school bus swung around the corner and came to a stop with a hiss of air brakes.
Gradually, as the weeks passed and the terror of going to school subsided, I began to notice something about my mother, that she looked nothing like the other kids’ mothers. In fact, she looked more like my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Alexander, who was white. Peering out the window as the bus rounded the corner and the front doors flew open, I noticed that Mommy stood apart from the other mothers, rarely speaking to them. She stood behind them, waiting calmly, hands in her coat pockets, watching intently through the bus windows to see where I was, then smiling and waving as I yelled my greeting to her through the window. She’d quickly grasp my hand as I stepped off the bus, ignoring the stares of the black women as she whisked me away.
One afternoon as we walked home from the bus stop, I asked Mommy why she didn’t look like the other mothers.
‘‘Because I’m not them,’’ she said.
‘‘Who are you?’’ I asked.
‘‘I’m your mother.’’
‘‘Then why don’t you look like Rodney’s mother, or Pete’s mother? How come you don’t look like me?’’
She sighed and shrugged. She’d obviously been down this road many times. ‘‘I do look like you. I’m your mother. You ask too many questions. Educate your mind. School is important. Forget Rodney and Pete. Forget their mothers. You remember school. Forget everything else. Who cares about Rodney and Pete! When they go one way, you go the other way. Understand? When they go one way, you go the other way. You hear me?’’
‘‘I know what I’m talking about. Don’t follow none of them around. You stick to your brothers and sisters, that’s it. Don’t tell nobody your business neither!’’ End of discussion.
A couple of weeks later the bus dropped me off and Mommy was not there. I panicked. Somewhere in the back of my mind was the memory of her warning me, ‘‘You’re going to have to learn to walk home by yourself,’’ but that memory blinked like a distant fog light in a stormy sea and it drowned in my panic. I was lost. My house was two blocks away, but it might as well have been ten miles because I had no idea where it was. I stood on the corner and bit back my tears. The other parents regarded me sympathetically and asked me my address, but I was afraid to tell them. In my mind was Mommy’s warning, drilled into all twelve of us children from the time we could walk: ‘‘Never, ever, ever tell your business to nobody,’’ and I shook my head no, I don’t know my address. They departed one by one, until a sole figure remained, a black father, who stood in front of me with his son, saying, ‘‘Don’t worry, your mother is coming soon.’’ I ignored him. He was blocking my view, the tears clouding my vision as I tried to peer behind him, looking down the block to see if that familiar brown coat and white face would appear in the distance. It didn’t. In fact there wasn’t anyone coming at all, except a bunch of kids and they certainly didn’t look like Mommy. They were a motley crew of girls and boys, ragged, with wild hairdos and unkempt jackets, hooting and making noise, and only when they were almost upon me did I recognize the faces of my elder siblings and my little sister Kathy who trailed behind them. I ran into their arms and collapsed in tears as they gathered around me, laughing.
Table of ContentsCONTENTS 1. Dead..............................................................1 2. The Bicycle.......................................................5 3. Kosher...........................................................15 4. Black Power......................................................21 5. The Old Testament................................................37 6. The New Testament................................................45 7. Sam..............................................................57 8. Brothers and Sisters.............................................65 9. Shul.............................................................79 10. School..........................................................85 11. Boys...........................................................107 12. Daddy..........................................................117 13. New York.......................................................129 14. Chicken Man....................................................137 15. Graduation.....................................................153 16. Driving........................................................159 17. Lost in Harlem.................................................169 18. Lost in Delaware...............................................177 19. The Promise....................................................193 20. Old Man Shilsky................................................203 21. A Bird Who Flies...............................................213 22. A Jew Discovered...............................................219 23. Dennis.........................................................231 24. New Brown......................................................249 25. Finding Ruthie.................................................259 Epilogue...........................................................279 Thanks and Acknowledgments.........................................287
What People are Saying About This
Praise for The Color of Water
"[A] triumph."—The New York Times Book Review
"As lively as a novel, a well-written, thoughtful contribution to the literature on race."—The Washington Post Book World
"Vibrant."—The Boston Globe
"James McBride evokes his childhood trek across the great racial divide with the kind of power and grace that touches and uplifts all hearts."—Bebe Moore Campbell
Reading Group Guide
The Color of Water
James McBride grew up one of twelve siblings in the all-black housing projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn, the son of a black minister and a woman who would not admit she was white. The object of McBride's constant embarrassment, and his continuous fear for her safety, his mother was an inspiring figure, who through sheer force of will saw her dozen children through college, and many through graduate school. McBride was an adult before he discovered the truth about his mother: the daughter of a failed itinerant Orthodox rabbi in rural Virginia, she had run away to Harlem, married a black man, and founded an all-black Baptist church in her living room in Red Hook. In this remarkable memoir, she tells in her own words the story of her past. Around her narrative, James McBride has written a powerful portrait of growing up, a meditation on race and identity, and a poignant, beautifully crafted hymn from a son to his mother.
ABOUT JAMES MCBRIDE
James McBride, a writer and musician, is a former staff writer for The Boston Globe, People magazine, andThe Washington Post. A professional saxophonist and composer, he has received the Richard Rodgers Development Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Music Theater Festival's Stephen Sondheim Award for his work in musical theater composition. He lives in South Nyack, New York.
Overwhelming acclaim for James McBride's unforgettable memoir:
"Vibrant."—The Boston Globe
"Incredibly moving."—Jonathan Kozol
"James McBride evokes his childhood trek across the great racial divide with the kind of power and grace that touches and uplifts all hearts."—Bebe Moore Campbell
"Complex and moving... suffused with issues of race, religion and identity. Yet those issues, so much a part of their lives and stories, are not central. The triumph of the book—and of their lives—is that race and religion are transcended in these interwoven histories by family love, the sheer force of a mother's will and her unshakable insistence that only two things really mattered: school and church... The two stories, son's and mother's, beautifully juxtaposed, strike a graceful note at a time of racial polarization.—The New York Times Book Review
November 13, 1997, renowned journalist James McBride joined BarnesandNoble@aol to discuss his memoir, THE COLOR OF WATER, which explores his white mother's Orthodox Jewish past as well as his own heritage as a man between black and white.
VogelBN: Good evening, Mr. McBride, and welcome to BarnesandNoble@aol! We're thrilled that you could join us!! We're brimming with wonderful questions from the audience, so whenever you're ready....
James McBride: Delighted to be here!
Question: Mr. McBride, what an honor! I am leading a book club tomorrow on your book and am anxious to find out why you decided to share all this info with all the rest of us?
James McBride: Well, I always wondered where my mother came from. It was something that was on my mind for many, many years.
Question: Judaism is passed down via the mother. Have you ever considered embracing the faith? Why or why not?
James McBride: I've considered it, but Christianity always worked for me. I grew up as a Christian. If my children decided to embrace the faith, I'd be more than delighted.
Question: As I read THE COLOR OF WATER, I kept wondering, what was your mother's motivation to become a Christian? Do you think it was an effort to become closer to your father? Or did she have a revelation of faith?
James McBride: No. It happened because after her mother died, she converted to Christianity. I think that it was the loss of her mother and the loss of her family and the love of my father and the embrace of the Christian church that pushed her into Christianity.
Question: Did you enjoy doing the "Rosie O'Donnell Show"?
James McBride: I did indeed. I kissed her seven times.
Question: What advice do you give to a novice like myself about entering the professional writing field?
James McBride: Well, writing teaches writing. Many books have been written between 5 and 7 in the morning. Never give up. It's a great catharsis.
Question: Did you ever harbor any anger against your mother for her dishonesty? It seems that her secret was important to her sense of self, and thus valid, but still....
James McBride: A very good question. I don't think so. I've thought about that a lot. I'm not sure if there was any other thing she could do. We didn't really have the time to think about her past that much. So it wasn't that great an issue. I was never angry at her for that. I think a lot of my anger was self-directed, meaning it had to do with my own feelings of inadequacy.
Question: What would you say to your mother's father if you met him today?
James McBride: I have no bitterness toward him. I'm sorry that he was the dysfunctional person that he was, but I certainly don't harbor any bitterness toward him. I guess I would say hello.
Question: How did finding out about your mother's history influence your own sense of identity?
James McBride: It gave me a tremendous sense of self. It made me feel complete. It gave me a sense of peace. It imbued in me my own sense of my "Jewishness." I don't consider myself qualified to go around claiming to be a Jew. But I'm proud to be one anyway. I like who I am.
Question: I respect your mother's strengthraising 12 kids on her own. What sustained her after both her husbands had passed on?
James McBride: She was a very religious woman. And her faith in God is what has sustained her.
Question: Most of what you write is nonfiction. Do you write fiction? Which do you feel more comfortable with? How do they differ for you?
James McBride: Before I started writing Quincy Jones's biography for Doubleday, which I began last February, I was working on a novel for Riverhead. I enjoyed it immensely, though it was much more difficult than nonfiction. I plan to finish that novel after finishing Quincy's biography. That's due in late 1998.
Question: THE COLOR OF WATER chronicles each time you asked your mother about her past. Is this book a record of your personal odyssey to find out who you are?
James McBride: In a way, yes. I wrote the book partly because I didn't know who I was. And I realized I couldn't discover who I was until I discovered who my mother was.
Question: You attended a segregated school in Wilmington, Delaware. Could you comment on your experience there and how it differed from the schools in New York?
James McBride: The schools in New York were better. The variety of students added to my education. There were good things about the segregated school. The teachers were very kind and very educated, but I got a far better education in the New York City schools that were integrated.
Question: I've read that you are a very talented musician, although I've never heard anything by you. What do you play? What draws you to music? Do you feel that performing music affects your writing?
James McBride: I used to perform music. No longer. I wrote songs for Anita Baker, Grover Washington, and Gary Burton. I'm literally in the recording studio now, working on a demo for a Disney audition to write the score for one of their theatrical musicals. I play saxophoneall the saxophonesand I play piano and I write. I started on piano and clarinet as a boy. My mother encouraged music around the house. And no, performing music doesn't affect my writing. I always loved music, even as a boy. I've just always been attracted to it.
Question: In your book you mention, "Mommy was the wrong color for black pride and black power." Could you elaborate on that statement from a modern-day historical perspective?
James McBride: At the time, black power was a huge deal in my neighborhood, and we were all imbued with a sense of black pride and black consciousness. In that context, she did not fit.
Question: Your childhood was hard, but you seem to successfully remember the good times. What's your favorite childhood memory? What were you doing? Who were you with?
James McBride: My favorite childhood memory is swimming in the Red Hook swimming pool with my mother, brothers, and sisters. I remember the strength in her hands and the firm way in which she held me.
Question: Americans like to classify. Any federal form you fill out asks for your race black, white, Native American, etc. As someone who could feasibly check all those boxes, which do you choose, if any?
James McBride: I would prefer to choose "other," but I'll always choose "black." I think there should be one box human being. But in the real world, I choose black.
Question: Could you please recommend your favorite jazz album?
James McBride: I guess I would have to answer that with three. "It Might as Well Be Swing," which is Frank Sinatra with the Count Basie Orchestra, with Quincy Jones as the arranger; "Kind of Blue" by Miles Davis; and "Stolen Moments" by Oliver Nelson. My favorite tenor saxophone player is Billy Harper.
Question: I haven't read the book yet, but I am fascinated by the title. What is "the color of water"?
James McBride: When I was a little boy, I would ask my mother, "What color is God?" I asked her if God was white or black. She said God was the color of water.
Question: Have you seen the film "Ethnic Notions"? What's your reaction to it?
James McBride: I'm sorry but I haven't seen it.
Question: First, I really enjoyed the book. Second, there's been a lot written lately about the memoir and its form of narrative, with your book and Frank McCourt's. How do you distinguish between telling a great story and telling the truth?
James McBride: What you have to do as a writer is find the gatepost moments of your story. The points of highest drama that prove your point.
Question: Mr. McBride, I was really moved by the scene where you brought your mother back to her hometown, and to her first real friend, Frances. Did your mother feel it was worth it to come back to this place that caused her such pain, to be reunited with Frances?
James McBride: It was a catharsis for Mommy. It was painful, but wonderful and terrifyingly exhilarating for her. I was moved by it. My sister Judy was there. It was just as moving for her.
Question: I found it interesting that you said your household was truly ruled by the women there, but in the end, it was you who told the story of your mother. Had it ever occurred to any of your siblings to tell her story? Were they just as interested as you?
James McBride: I don't think it ever occurred to any of them, but they were just as interested. My siblings felt that God had put this story in my heart, and they felt it was appropriate that I be the one to tell it.
Question: When you were writing from your mom's perspective, how did you change your tone so it really sounded like her?
James McBride: I just climbed into her skin. And felt what it felt like to be her. It wasn't hard -- she is my mother. Eighty percent of those words were hers.
Question: Can you tell us about the novel that you are currently working on?
James McBride: I'm working on a novel about a group of black soldiers who stumble upon a group of Jewish refugees after World War II.
VogelBN: Thanks so much for joining us, Mr. McBride. We are so glad to have had you, and we hope that you will join us again with your next book!
James McBride: I'm honored to be the recipient of so much love from so many people. My mother, myself, and my siblings feel truly blessed beyond words.
VogelBN: Your readers thank you. Have a wonderful night!
James McBride: Thank you!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Looking for a good read The color or water is a book all readers can relate to. It was written by writer and musician, James McBride. This book is based on a conversation between him and his mother Ruth. James mainly focuses on his upbringing as a child, and getting to understand his family history and really getting to know his mother who was much privatized. Ruth life was something she was not fond of talking about. She was born an Orthodox Jew, Ruchel Dwarja Aylska, on April 1, 1992. She was shunned from her family because of her unorthodox decisions. Where she broke free and was able to be happy with who she was. She raised 12 children in a very hard time with just the bare minimum making education her main focus. All 12 of her children attended great colleges perusing rewarding careers. If you have not read this book I highly recommend you do this book will teach you to appreciate and value the lessons you learn.
I read this book in college for one of my English classes. I loved it and how he describes his mother in a way that we all could relate to.
We read this in April 2000. One of us rated it 10 out of 10 and cried in the end too. The others rated it average! There were a lot of issues to be discussed though and it generated an interesting discussion.