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Mishna Wolff grew up in a poor black neighborhood with her single father, a white man who truly believed he was black. He strutted around with a short perm, a Cosby-esqe sweater, gold chains and a Kangol--telling jokes like Redd Fox, and giving advice like Jesse Jackson. You couldn't tell my father he was white. Believe me, I tried, writes Wolff. And so from early childhoo Mishna Wolff grew up in a poor black neighborhood with her single father, a white man who truly believed he was black. He strutted around with a short perm, a Cosby-esqe sweater, gold chains and a Kangol--telling jokes like Redd Fox, and giving advice like Jesse Jackson. You couldn't tell my father he was white. Believe me, I tried, writes Wolff. And so from early childhood on, her father began his crusade to make his white daughter down. Unfortunately, Mishna didn't quite fit in with the neighborhood kids: she couldn't dance, she couldn't sing, she couldn't double Dutch and she was the worst player on her all-black basketball team. She was shy, uncool, and painfully white. And yet when she was suddenly sent to a rich white school, she found she was too black to fit in with her white classmates. I'm Down is a hip, hysterical and at the same time beautiful memoir that will have you howling with laughter, recommending it to friends and questioning what it means to be black and white in America.


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Mishna Wolff grew up in a poor black neighborhood with her single father, a white man who truly believed he was black. He strutted around with a short perm, a Cosby-esqe sweater, gold chains and a Kangol--telling jokes like Redd Fox, and giving advice like Jesse Jackson. You couldn't tell my father he was white. Believe me, I tried, writes Wolff. And so from early childhoo Mishna Wolff grew up in a poor black neighborhood with her single father, a white man who truly believed he was black. He strutted around with a short perm, a Cosby-esqe sweater, gold chains and a Kangol--telling jokes like Redd Fox, and giving advice like Jesse Jackson. You couldn't tell my father he was white. Believe me, I tried, writes Wolff. And so from early childhood on, her father began his crusade to make his white daughter down. Unfortunately, Mishna didn't quite fit in with the neighborhood kids: she couldn't dance, she couldn't sing, she couldn't double Dutch and she was the worst player on her all-black basketball team. She was shy, uncool, and painfully white. And yet when she was suddenly sent to a rich white school, she found she was too black to fit in with her white classmates. I'm Down is a hip, hysterical and at the same time beautiful memoir that will have you howling with laughter, recommending it to friends and questioning what it means to be black and white in America.

30 review for I'm Down: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I think that it was a very well-written book. It made me laugh, and think, throughout the entire story. Some felt that the book's message about race diminished as she talked more of class issues through her experiences. Why is it that people think that race & class, when dealing with White & Black people, can be separated? Often the two are intertwined simply because of the history of the nature of our relationship with each other and anyone who thinks otherwise is fooling themselves. Reading pr I think that it was a very well-written book. It made me laugh, and think, throughout the entire story. Some felt that the book's message about race diminished as she talked more of class issues through her experiences. Why is it that people think that race & class, when dealing with White & Black people, can be separated? Often the two are intertwined simply because of the history of the nature of our relationship with each other and anyone who thinks otherwise is fooling themselves. Reading previous reviews of the book made me a bit upset. Why does it have to be "schtick" that her father acts this way? Why are people reading this as if none of it ever happened? There may be embellishments, but is it so absurd for a White man to "act Black" and have it be who he really is? I wouldn't describe her father as someone who wants to be Black, but as a man who wants to be himself and the him that he is happens to enjoy chicken gizzards. So be it. It's not a ploy nor is it schtick, but it is who he is. Those who think so are the very people she mentions in the latter half of the book in my opinion. As a young Black woman who was consistently told that she "talked White", I can identify with the feeling of confusion/anger/bewilderment/frustration of being yourself and, as a result, baffling people who look at you & think you should conduct yourself in some other way. I recommend reading this book not just for the entertainment at the humorous portions, but for opening up some honest dialogue about race & class issues.

  2. 5 out of 5

    AudioBookLover

    An excellent memoir. Mishna Wolff's reading of the audiobook was very good and she's really funny but I have to say that this audiobook has some of the worst sound I've ever heard on an audiobook. BOOK ***** AUDIOBOOK**** An excellent memoir. Mishna Wolff's reading of the audiobook was very good and she's really funny but I have to say that this audiobook has some of the worst sound I've ever heard on an audiobook. BOOK ***** AUDIOBOOK****

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mike Lindgren

    Mishna Wolff's I'm Down purports to be both a ragingly funny family-dysfunction memoir à la Sedaris or Burroughs, and a perceptive take on racial identity. It's neither, but that shouldn't stop Wolff, who was raised by a white single father in the black working-class town of Rainier Valley, Washington, from making hay with this slight but basically sweet-tempered memoir. Wolff's book has the contours of the classic coming-of-age tale, wherein the awkward and put-upon duckling triumphs over a seri Mishna Wolff's I'm Down purports to be both a ragingly funny family-dysfunction memoir à la Sedaris or Burroughs, and a perceptive take on racial identity. It's neither, but that shouldn't stop Wolff, who was raised by a white single father in the black working-class town of Rainier Valley, Washington, from making hay with this slight but basically sweet-tempered memoir. Wolff's book has the contours of the classic coming-of-age tale, wherein the awkward and put-upon duckling triumphs over a series of endearing mishaps and eventually turns into a swan (the marketing copy identifies Wolff, ominously, as a "humorist and former model"). In Mishna Wolff's case, a background of legitimately harrowing but otherwise unremarkable poverty was made distinctive by her father's insistent adoption of all the hallmarks of urban African-American culture, including the flamboyant clothes, the jewelry, the aggressively ungrammatical argot and the emphasis on toughness and contempt for authority. The result, according to Wolff, was a comical decade-long reverse-passing drama and a childhood marked by substantial identity confusion. Wolff mines this material for humor, but there's something weird and unintentionally telling going on here. The author treats her father's obsession as source material for rueful isn't-this-crazy comedy, but a man repeatedly putting his two young daughters in considerable danger to prove his "blackness" is, in fact, a sad and desperate spectacle. Other people understand this: John Belushi's famous imitation of Joe Cocker got its sting from the pathos inherent in the lengths white men will go to in order to demonstrate that they have "soul." Wolff's depiction of her father is startlingly tone-deaf, with what seems intended as a portrayal of harmless eccentricity often verging on the monstrous. Most readers, however jaded, don't think child abuse is funny. The element of I'm Down that, almost incidentally, carries real force is not the racial appropriation but rather the depiction of relentless poverty. Wolff mentions off-handedly that she and her sister often lived for weeks on tapioca and watery corn bread; there's a poignant scene where the teenage author, who has unwittingly high-achieved herself into attendance at a posh private school, forces herself to share her classmates' disdain for the school lunches that she, half-starving, secretly craves. Wolff describes how she unapologetically latched onto her rich classmates in order to take advantage of their ski trips and European vacations and palatial beachfront homes full of sleek electronics and fully stocked kitchens, only to discard the same girls with contempt once they had served her purposes. A more reflective writer would surely see how sad this is, but Wolff races ahead to the next set piece, like the comic pro she is. I'm Down is in many ways a catalogue of misplaced emphases and unintended literary effects (the prose, for one thing, is flat and clumsy, and the humor feels strained in the way that stand-up routines transferred to the page usually do), but one doesn't feel quite right blaming Mishna Wolff for this, exactly. One of the many irritating things about memoir as a genre is the way it makes special claims for itself, the way it seems to be criticism-proof. With a novel, a dyspeptic critic, especially one not unnerved by the daunting middle-class minefields of race and parenthood, can simply dismiss the lot as so much ill-conceived garbage. Since a memoir's power is ostensibly grounded in its truthfulness, however, it often feels that the only legitimate objection is to say, "this person's life is not interesting." The alternative, at least in this case, is only slightly less harsh: to say "you haven't done a good job extracting meaning from your life," or, "you don't understand the meaning of your own life." On Mishna Wolff's block, them's fighting words. I hope she doesn't "cap" me. —From The L Magazine, June 24, 2009

  4. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

    Summary of Book: Mishna Wolff grew up in a poor black neighborhood with her single father, a white man who truly believed he was black. “He strutted around with a short perm, a Cosby-esqe sweater, gold chains and a Kangol—telling jokes like Redd Fox, and giving advice like Jesse Jackson. You couldn’t tell my father he was white. Believe me, I tried,” writes Wolff. And so from early childhood on, her father began his crusade to make his white daughter Down. Unfortunately, Mishna didn’t quite fit i Summary of Book: Mishna Wolff grew up in a poor black neighborhood with her single father, a white man who truly believed he was black. “He strutted around with a short perm, a Cosby-esqe sweater, gold chains and a Kangol—telling jokes like Redd Fox, and giving advice like Jesse Jackson. You couldn’t tell my father he was white. Believe me, I tried,” writes Wolff. And so from early childhood on, her father began his crusade to make his white daughter Down. Unfortunately, Mishna didn’t quite fit in with the neighborhood kids: she couldn’t dance, she couldn’t sing, she couldn’t double dutch and she was the worst player on her all-black basketball team. She was shy, uncool and painfully white. And yet when she was suddenly sent to a rich white school, she found she was too “black” to fit in with her white classmates. I’m Down is a hip, hysterical and at the same time beautiful memoir that will have you howling with laughter, recommending it to friends and questioning what it means to be black and white in America. My Review: It's hard to find the right words to describe this book. It seems to me that when the author was telling her "story" she picked out the worst things in her father to describe (to show how "black" he was). His womanizing and lack of work ethic were not funny. His attitude towards his daughters and how he let his women treat his daughters was not funny. Many of the things that black families are trying to overcome are hysterical to this author... they weren't to me. Now I do understand not fitting in with your community and being moved to different schools to be challenged and people's attitudes toward you when this happens. Now some parts of the book were funny, like her stint with the basketball teams and some of her other antics trying to fit in. But I didn't find any of the book hysterical. Lucky it was a quick read! Disclaimer: This was a book from my personal collection. Love and Blessings! Margaret

  5. 5 out of 5

    Destiny (myhoneyreads)

    Actual rating: 3.5 Memoirs aren’t really my thing but it was interesting to see Wolff’s perspective on race and poor vs rich. I had problems with this book that were personal but I really related to Mishna. I wouldn’t reread it but it was enjoyable.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    People think this book is funny? What on earth is the matter with those people? This book isn't funny. It's depressing as all get-out. And it's not about racial identity, it's about child neglect and massive dysfunction. Goodness, the people who think this book is about racial identity have some seriously racist ideas about racial identity. Obviously, this author turned out ok. But good lord, reading about how she was "raised" made me want to go back in time, find her, and rescue her from those w People think this book is funny? What on earth is the matter with those people? This book isn't funny. It's depressing as all get-out. And it's not about racial identity, it's about child neglect and massive dysfunction. Goodness, the people who think this book is about racial identity have some seriously racist ideas about racial identity. Obviously, this author turned out ok. But good lord, reading about how she was "raised" made me want to go back in time, find her, and rescue her from those weak, pathetic, selfish people who did not deserve to be parents. (I might have tried to rescue one or two of her friends, as well. Honestly, only one kid in this entire book had people worthy of the title of parent.) I'm not giving this book 2 stars for the writing. The writing is good. It's a compelling story. I just don't think the story is what it is billed as. The story it is was painful to read. I can't say I enjoyed it in any way. In fact, now I want to curl up in a ball and cry for a little while. Maybe I wouldn't be quite so depressed if this book hadn't been billed as "laugh-out-loud funny."

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dee

    I hated this book so much. I tried and tried to enjoy it but I just couldn't. I read it in it's entirety hoping the humor would come in at some point. Yea....it never happened. The premise sounded fantastic but the writing was flat. Nothing about this story was funny. More then anything it sounded so sad. She never fit in, she was treated like crap, she stood in the shadow of her younger sister, who always was "down" and could do no wrong and her dad treated her kinda crappy. The weird part abou I hated this book so much. I tried and tried to enjoy it but I just couldn't. I read it in it's entirety hoping the humor would come in at some point. Yea....it never happened. The premise sounded fantastic but the writing was flat. Nothing about this story was funny. More then anything it sounded so sad. She never fit in, she was treated like crap, she stood in the shadow of her younger sister, who always was "down" and could do no wrong and her dad treated her kinda crappy. The weird part about it is that her dad did things that my dad also did but I don't ever remember feeling all too bad about it. I believe that she may have stayed in a black neighborhood but she didn't LIVE in a black neighborhood. Her writing just didn't reflect it. It almost sounded as if she was telling someone else's story, not hers. She just came off as extremely weak and kind of a nag in this book. She was extremely irritating and her writing reflected that.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

    I’m Down by Mishna Wolff When a white child grows up in a white family with a father who thinks he’s black, acts like he’s black and expects his wife and 2 very young daughters to be just as black as the neighborhood they are growing up in, it can be a bit unnerving. Sure, he fits in, having grown up there and already making his mark, but in the few years away, when the children are born, there is a separation that Mishna, at just 6, can’t quite bring together. When her parents divorce shortly I’m Down by Mishna Wolff When a white child grows up in a white family with a father who thinks he’s black, acts like he’s black and expects his wife and 2 very young daughters to be just as black as the neighborhood they are growing up in, it can be a bit unnerving. Sure, he fits in, having grown up there and already making his mark, but in the few years away, when the children are born, there is a separation that Mishna, at just 6, can’t quite bring together. When her parents divorce shortly after, she and her younger sister stay with their father while their mother deals with life as it is. Forced to attend a summer “day camp” while their dad works, Mishna finally finds the voice to “cap” back at the other kids who ridiculed her as soon as she walked through the door. With new found chutzpah, she attains the friendships she desired as well as the confidence to gain a few more. Finally making her way in school, she is again upheaved when she is sent to a different school for smarter kids. Rich kids. Still trying to please her father, who seems to prefer her dumb & cute, she is tasked with tending to her younger sister, her homework, the extra curriculum he signs her up for, and to adore his new girlfriends, as long as they are. Wanting a better future, she decides, at 12 years of age, that scholarships are her ticket to the best college, but how? Knowing her father got in via football, she sets her goal for bulking up to play. In the meantime, she joins a swim team and soon excels at the breaststroke. So much so, she is asked to join a real team, but she wants the glory of football, because, after all, “It’s not like you sit down and watch Monday night swimming.” Home life escalates into animosity over Mishna’s desire to better herself and the needs involved with such. Her father has remarried, his new wife supports them all with the addiction of her own two children and feels Mishna should be contributing more, monetarily and domestically. Arguments erupt, Mishna continues to subjugate herself, hoping to appease, and continues to fail. Realizing she can never be all, she leaves to live with her mother, finding a new peace and outlook on life. Wisdom enters with the realization that even rich kids have messed up lives and she needs to own her own, center herself, to attain any goals she holds. If you loved The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, you will equality enjoy this. Filled with much the same parents, sibling adoration, smack-yourself-in-the-head situations and financial deprivation, it is inspiring to see her win in the end.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lillian

    I read this book cover to cover in one day. It kept me hooked throughout but left me with many questions. Mishna Wolff's harrowing childhood was defined by her struggle to fit in--first, as the lone white kid in her predominantly African-American neighborhood and later, as the lone poor kid in the predominantly white, upper class school she tested into. Wolff does a beautiful job capturing the vulnerability of being a kid; she makes the reader feel keenly the moments of painful embarrassment she I read this book cover to cover in one day. It kept me hooked throughout but left me with many questions. Mishna Wolff's harrowing childhood was defined by her struggle to fit in--first, as the lone white kid in her predominantly African-American neighborhood and later, as the lone poor kid in the predominantly white, upper class school she tested into. Wolff does a beautiful job capturing the vulnerability of being a kid; she makes the reader feel keenly the moments of painful embarrassment she had to navigate. Although she depicts her childhood self somewhat deprecatingly, it's hard not to admire this young girl's inventiveness and grit. (When a classmate asks why her lunch ticket is a different color than everyone else's, she says that it's because she's allergic to raisins.) I wish, though, that Wolff had delved deeper into her father's psychology. Her father, a charismatic man who seemed to fit utterly smoothly into the African-American community, still remains a mystery to me. Wolff speculates little on where his intense need to be black came from or why he had so much trouble holding down a job. She alludes vaguely to her father's threatening physical presence (both she and her mom seemed to live in constant fear of him), but she never shines a clear light on this aspect of their relationship. In fact, she seems determined to "find the good" in all of her family members, even though her father and her stepmom Yvonne treated her, on many occasions, horribly. Wolff can't seem to let go of her need to be daddy's girl, and the book's warm and fuzzy final scene struck me as, at best, overly optimistic.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Anita

    I loved this book. It reminded me of The Glass Castle. It doesn't cover quite the same time-span as GC but it is packed with similar elements; the well-intentioned but misguided parents, the poverty, the confusion that comes with growing up, and ultimately figuring some things out despite a million obstacles. It's funny, sad, and short, and I liked the way it covered themes of race and class. It is a weirdly profound little tale told from a kid's-eye-view. Oh, and the cover is priceless. Every t I loved this book. It reminded me of The Glass Castle. It doesn't cover quite the same time-span as GC but it is packed with similar elements; the well-intentioned but misguided parents, the poverty, the confusion that comes with growing up, and ultimately figuring some things out despite a million obstacles. It's funny, sad, and short, and I liked the way it covered themes of race and class. It is a weirdly profound little tale told from a kid's-eye-view. Oh, and the cover is priceless. Every time I look at it, it makes me smile.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kierstin Leah

    Mishna, girl, listen to me: your father abused you. I’ll say it slower: your. father. abused. you. He is a bad person and he deserves to feel bad. If any of you who are reading this find yourselves identifying with this girl’s experience in terms of her family dynamic, message me right now and I’ll call CPS for you. And that’s the worst thing about this book, the fact that CPS would have taken she and her sister away from her father had anyone contacted them at almost any point in the book. Fuck Mishna, girl, listen to me: your father abused you. I’ll say it slower: your. father. abused. you. He is a bad person and he deserves to feel bad. If any of you who are reading this find yourselves identifying with this girl’s experience in terms of her family dynamic, message me right now and I’ll call CPS for you. And that’s the worst thing about this book, the fact that CPS would have taken she and her sister away from her father had anyone contacted them at almost any point in the book. Fuck, if these were my neighbors, I would have called myself. Surviving on tapioca? Driving a windowless van with no seats? Kids sitting on the floor sliding around?? Dad won’t get a job bc he’s got too much soul? Hello, foster home. If you read this shit and gave it more than three stars you should be put on some kind of federal watchlist and banned from ever raising children. It’s not the recounting of the events itself that made me so angry, it’s the way they’re written. This girl’s father tells her to her face that the Christmas gift she saved up all her money for isn’t good enough and to try harder next year, and she doesn’t think it’s a big deal at all. She thinks that’s just how dads are. That’s fucking terrifying. This girl thinks the only abnormal thing about her childhood was her dads bad perm. The only reason I finished this book in one sitting is because I was so ANGRY. Everything about this book pissed me off! From the constant insistence that she was somehow part of the black community just because she lived there (she admits she didn’t even have any friends in that neighborhood!) to the horrible things her father did to her and her sister, right up to the attitude of pathetic indifference to anyone but her family that it all that seemed to instill in her. I was genuinely disgusted by the time I finished this book. Its themes seem to espouse all the horrible ramifications the “Family Before Everything!” mentality has. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but the inadvertent overall theme of this book seems to be “the people you’re related to can be just as horrible as anyone else and don’t always deserve a place in your life.” Top Three Awful Moments: 3. When mishna spends a few pages talking about her classmate (I hesitate to use the word “friend” here) self-harming then dismisses it all by saying the girl “didn’t understand how good she had it.” Sorry, Mishna Wolfe, next time I feel so horribly depressed that I want to swallow a bottle of pills, I’ll remind myself that I have an iPhone and I’ll probably get over it. These two kids should have been bonding over the fact that none of their parents seemed to give a fuck about them, but instead mishna looks down her nose at the girl because she thinks anyone who owns two TVs has no right to feel sad. 2. When mishna’s father, who refuses to get a job, drives his two kids and his step-kids around in a utility van that has no seats, making them sit on milk crates that aren’t even attached to the floor. Hey, what do you know, they hit a bump and the youngest falls out the open door (because of course they don’t shut!) and almost gets run over by the car behind them! Who could have seen that coming? And of course, the father gets out and screams at mishna that this is her fault because she should have been watching him. The best part? Mishna spins this anecdote around into a criticism of her step mother. Believe me, the step mom was a piece of work. But isn’t it, like, kind of your dads job to protect you and support you and get a job so you have a car with seats? And not marry women who verbally abuse his children? 1. When mishna and her sister, sporting cornrows, of course, watch another white girl on their swim team dancing to a rap song, exchange a glance, and say, “white people.” Bitch, THAT IS YOU. YOURE WHITE PEOPLE. The little commentary at the end by her father was the most disgusting part, and it would be #1 if I thought it technically counted as part of the novel. Basically he says “hey i don’t remember being that bad, but what are you gonna do? people be like that sometimes” I’m not exaggerating when I say if I knew this guys name I would write him a letter telling him he should have never been allowed to reproduce in the first place. I know it’s hard to criticize a memoir, since people are only retelling their lives the way they remember them. But when one that’s supposed to be comical ends up just being sad and pathetic? It gets one star. Stick to modeling, mishna.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Bunny

    Seriously, who decided to market this as a humor book? I would like to meet the person in charge who thought that was a good idea. This isn't a humorous book. There is nothing funny about Mishna's story, and I hated her quite a lot because she wrote this book, she's narrating this book, and she either sold it as a humor book, or allowed it to happen. This is the story of a little girl who is an outcast for being white, both by classmates and her complete vagabond asshole of a father. Then she move Seriously, who decided to market this as a humor book? I would like to meet the person in charge who thought that was a good idea. This isn't a humorous book. There is nothing funny about Mishna's story, and I hated her quite a lot because she wrote this book, she's narrating this book, and she either sold it as a humor book, or allowed it to happen. This is the story of a little girl who is an outcast for being white, both by classmates and her complete vagabond asshole of a father. Then she moves to a new school, and is outcast because she's poor, so she makes up extravagant stories. Her father is practically ashamed of her for being intelligent, and my brain nearly exploded from irritation throughout the first few chapters. Her mother is completely useless, refusing to stand up against him. Then we get the stepmother in, who is a total cuntwaffle, and who seriously blames her for her father's shitty van not having properly closing back doors, and allowing a, what, 6 year old? To go flying out the back of the damn van. Seriously, this was a fucking laugh a minute. Hate. With the fire of a thousand suns, hate.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Heather Downs

    I really wanted to like this book but clearly didn't. Wolff wrote about her unconventional childhood with a divorced father who had an affinity for black culture. In reading some of the reviews, it appears that the way that she describes her father's association with black culture is supposed to be hilarious. It isn't. She has a very essentialist view of what composes black culture. One of the major, and very troubling, associations that she makes to black culture is that one of the core values I really wanted to like this book but clearly didn't. Wolff wrote about her unconventional childhood with a divorced father who had an affinity for black culture. In reading some of the reviews, it appears that the way that she describes her father's association with black culture is supposed to be hilarious. It isn't. She has a very essentialist view of what composes black culture. One of the major, and very troubling, associations that she makes to black culture is that one of the core values is of laziness. She seems to conflate her father's own unemployment with his adoption of black culture. This is totally false. Sociological evidence suggests that employment discrimination limits job opportunities for African Americans. Hence, this apparent "laziness" is actually due to racism. Her father cannot make the same claim for his lack of employment. Therefore, I have to question whether Wolff really is "down" with black culture. How can she write an entire book and not even address racism and discrimination in her extensive experiences with the black community?

  14. 5 out of 5

    Tracey

    I'm glad Mishna Wolff wrote about the uncommon story of her childhood, though I don't feel like I got enough of it. In some ways, her experience featured a lot of the typical b.s. that parents put their kids through (divorce, empty promises, forced participation in sports), but all of that all-too-common stuff got filtered through Wolff's double life as a white girl living in an all-black neighborhood with a father who was, sounds like, convinced he was black. Reading about Wolff struggling to a I'm glad Mishna Wolff wrote about the uncommon story of her childhood, though I don't feel like I got enough of it. In some ways, her experience featured a lot of the typical b.s. that parents put their kids through (divorce, empty promises, forced participation in sports), but all of that all-too-common stuff got filtered through Wolff's double life as a white girl living in an all-black neighborhood with a father who was, sounds like, convinced he was black. Reading about Wolff struggling to adapt to her parents' split and her sudden dunking into a new environment got painful fast. Fortunately, Wolff's humor tempers the ouch factor (though she really did sound pathetic at first), and, happily, she does adapt well (though never as well as her younger sister, who, it's obvious from the start, Wolff loves and doesn't blame for anything). The memoir, such as it is, has a couple of problems. For one, it's shorter than I wanted. It cuts off in Wolff's early teens with no mention of what's gone on in her life since or how her former experience shaped her adulthood. Yes, I can see from the jacket bio she's a "former model" and a "humorist." Okay, that's nice, but did her childhood influence either of these choices? The memoir gets more like a novel toward the end and wraps up very much like one; I wish I could mean that in a good way. The other, bigger problem with the memoir is that Wolff seems mad as hell--at her father, mainly--and grapples with keeping a lid on her anger hard. It's like, she's been furious with her dad, so she wrote this book about it, but she's trying not to say just how mad she is. The way the book wraps up tells me that Wolff wrote this in part to come to terms with her father, but her largely negative portrayal of him speaks louder to how furious she is with him still, on some deep level. I'm no psychoanalyst, but I know a formerly deeply hurt kid/angry adult still smarting when I see one. Wolff's still smarting. I would like to have read more about her life beyond the point where the book stops. Her life wasn't all about her dad and his choices, but her memoir certainly makes it seem that way.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    I have been wanting to read this for months! Through the magic of ILL, it is now mine. Tra-la. This book is fascinating and mesmerizing. Wolff tells the story of her upbringing with amazing humor and calm. Throughout the book, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Her style is clearly funny, but her stories are full of such unfairness and the bewilderment of a child who simply is not being taken care of. From her perspective, no adult and no other child in her life has even bothered to try to fi I have been wanting to read this for months! Through the magic of ILL, it is now mine. Tra-la. This book is fascinating and mesmerizing. Wolff tells the story of her upbringing with amazing humor and calm. Throughout the book, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Her style is clearly funny, but her stories are full of such unfairness and the bewilderment of a child who simply is not being taken care of. From her perspective, no adult and no other child in her life has even bothered to try to figure out why she does the weird and out of place things she does, or even to make sure she has something to eat. I know the marketing push and the draw of this book is her toggling between an economically impoverished black neighborhood and a posh school for gifted (mostly white) kids, but I was struck much more by the sheer neglect she and her sister (and the kids of both neighborhoods) experienced at the hands of their parents. The scenes in the GSCC summer program -- Kids left to fend for themselves in an indoor lord of the flies -- This memoir ends when she is still a kid; I'd like to read the story of how she came out of that with any sense of self to become this writer and this woman who can smirk at us from the back flap of the book jacket.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Joshua

    I was shown the book by a good friend at work, and we though it looked funny. However, my sensitivities were heightened about this book by another good friend of mine, and so I went in ready to be offended by it. I probably would have put off reading it for a while if not for a friend of mine from work that wanted to read it as well. At first, I could not help but think, "This does in fact seem a little racist." As Mishna further introduced me to the leading players, however, I began to realize I was shown the book by a good friend at work, and we though it looked funny. However, my sensitivities were heightened about this book by another good friend of mine, and so I went in ready to be offended by it. I probably would have put off reading it for a while if not for a friend of mine from work that wanted to read it as well. At first, I could not help but think, "This does in fact seem a little racist." As Mishna further introduced me to the leading players, however, I began to realize that her experience was just that. We can't call her a racist (as she is unjustly called by her own family) just because she grew up in these circumstances. She was merely dealing with the things that life threw at her the best way that she knew how. That being said, this book is a funny, touching story of pre-teen angst. Wolff deals with trying to fit in no matter where she goes, whether it is day-care, elementary school, sports or her own home. Her father is truly exasperating throughout the book, but by the end they have come to a slightly sad yet touching conclusion. Definitely put your fears about this book aside and give it a read!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Alaska

    I had hoped that this book would be as hilarious as promised, but it was often just extremely distressing to read. What was likely meant to be read as a series of dark yet humorous anecdotes about Wolff's childhood read more like a seemingly never-ending list of times Wolff was failed, gaslighted, or outright victimized by the adults in her life. Finding little to none of the comedic relief I kept searching for, the book just kept getting more and more anxiety-inducing. Overall, the book was not I had hoped that this book would be as hilarious as promised, but it was often just extremely distressing to read. What was likely meant to be read as a series of dark yet humorous anecdotes about Wolff's childhood read more like a seemingly never-ending list of times Wolff was failed, gaslighted, or outright victimized by the adults in her life. Finding little to none of the comedic relief I kept searching for, the book just kept getting more and more anxiety-inducing. Overall, the book was not terribly written and Wolff's story is very much an interesting one. However, it's certainly not the hilarious and interesting perspective on race in America that it's made out to be.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Dr. E

    Entertaining at times. Borderline insulting the rest. Although the author shares her story along the lines of class, her implicit racism made for an offensive and painful read. Not that she has to reconcile this as it is her narrative, but it seemed she tried to go there and did so very recklessly. As a reader I found her "recollections" (better yet, observations) to be superficial, exploitive, and even patronizing regarding her experiences in her "community". I was hoping for more and got less Entertaining at times. Borderline insulting the rest. Although the author shares her story along the lines of class, her implicit racism made for an offensive and painful read. Not that she has to reconcile this as it is her narrative, but it seemed she tried to go there and did so very recklessly. As a reader I found her "recollections" (better yet, observations) to be superficial, exploitive, and even patronizing regarding her experiences in her "community". I was hoping for more and got less. Disappointing.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Nichole

    A few weeks ago, I finished Mishna Wolff's 2009 memoir I'm Down. What a funny and bittersweet tale of family, identity, and acceptance! A white girl raised in a poor black neighborhood by a black-identified white father, Wolff is bewildered, and she craves approval and normalcy. Neither is in the cards for her, unfortunately, and her formative years (2-14) are spent fighting, going hungry, and being misunderstood. She stumbles through class and race warfare. Wolff knows she will never be truly " A few weeks ago, I finished Mishna Wolff's 2009 memoir I'm Down. What a funny and bittersweet tale of family, identity, and acceptance! A white girl raised in a poor black neighborhood by a black-identified white father, Wolff is bewildered, and she craves approval and normalcy. Neither is in the cards for her, unfortunately, and her formative years (2-14) are spent fighting, going hungry, and being misunderstood. She stumbles through class and race warfare. Wolff knows she will never be truly "down," (80's style black cool) but by the end of the book, she is a mature teenager who embraces her complex family and bicultural identity. I was infuriated by her parents, especially loser dad John. In the memoir, John Wolff is a tragicomic figure: charming, self-delusional, and lazy. He lacks basic moral values. He grows pot in the basement, and he never stops wishing his daughters were cool street fighters. He lets his new wife bully little Mishna. He never works, but prefers instead to live off the paycheck of the frustrated wife. On a few sad pages, Wolff and her little sister Anora search almost in vain for food, and he shrugs it off. He derides Wolff's school smarts. He is a bum, and he is largely responsible for his family's hardships. People can redeem themselves, though. When the author is a teen, John Wolff reconnects with her through swimming. Wolff even manages to forgive her mother's parenting failures by acknowledging her quiet and consistent caregiving. 4 stars

  20. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    I'm skeptical about memoirs now. It wasn't just James Frey that made me skeptical. Since then, there have been many memoirs, both published and unpublished, that have proven to be false. So, while I very much liked this book, I'm not at all convinced that it was true. The beautiful thing is that it doesn't matter. If it is true, great. I can't wait to read the rest of the story. If it isn't true, great. I can't wait to read the rest of the story. The writing was engaging and it read like fiction I'm skeptical about memoirs now. It wasn't just James Frey that made me skeptical. Since then, there have been many memoirs, both published and unpublished, that have proven to be false. So, while I very much liked this book, I'm not at all convinced that it was true. The beautiful thing is that it doesn't matter. If it is true, great. I can't wait to read the rest of the story. If it isn't true, great. I can't wait to read the rest of the story. The writing was engaging and it read like fiction. It moved along fast and there weren't really any lulls to skim through. I almost wish this book was fiction, because that would make the narrator a lot more reliable. When I was reading this, I kept thinking "This is how YOU saw it. But I wonder how it really was." Which isn't to say, of course, that she deliberately lied. But, if these things are happening to you, then of course you're going to spin them with your own interpretation. That, and you're only privvy to the conversations you had access to. The other thing was that the book ended too soon. Unless she's planning to do another one, and maybe she is, I thought it ended way too early. What happened in high school? What happened with her parents? What happened post high school? I know it was supposed to be about her "growing up" but it just seemed to end in an awkward place. I wanted to know more. I suppose wanting to know more is the best compliment you can give a memoir. If you're planning to read this book (and from the cover how could you NOT want to read it) don't expect any deep philosophical answers about race relations (or anything else) from it. Expect to be entertained, and you won't be disappointed.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Roberta

    A memoir by a woman who grew up in Seattle in the '80s, raised by a white father who truly seemed to think he was black. Mishna does everything to please him - turning herself inside out to be"down". The book is snort your coke funny in places. I'm not surprised to hear that Wolff is a comedian. It's very sharply observed and her turn of phrase can be brilliant. The book is also sad and pathetic, especially when Mishna's dad fails to stand up for or acknowledge her for who she actually is. It's a A memoir by a woman who grew up in Seattle in the '80s, raised by a white father who truly seemed to think he was black. Mishna does everything to please him - turning herself inside out to be"down". The book is snort your coke funny in places. I'm not surprised to hear that Wolff is a comedian. It's very sharply observed and her turn of phrase can be brilliant. The book is also sad and pathetic, especially when Mishna's dad fails to stand up for or acknowledge her for who she actually is. It's a very interesting view of the cultural divide between black and white in the US. It seems the difference is more to do with class and opportunity and that this book is about being poor and black as opposed to rich and white. I'm not sure all black people love capping, rapping and saxaphone insted of violin and academics. And poor parenting knows no cultural, financial or racial boundary; the neglect of children is surprising and upsetting. One quibble I have is that the whole book is told in the same voice and that voice is an adult's. I got the sense of memory recreated and understood from an adult perspective, which is fine except that isn't how she is presenting it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Brown Girl Reading

    I absolutely hated this book! To read a more in depth review check out my post at http://didibooksenglish.wordpress.com/ on Saturday. I absolutely hated this book! To read a more in depth review check out my post at http://didibooksenglish.wordpress.com/ on Saturday.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    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. 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. Now she doesn't fit in because her family is poor. Her survival method of capping doesn't quite work at her new school, and she is forced to find another way to fit in. Eventually, she finds a small group of friends who bond over drawing and fantasy stories (think elves and wizards). But she finds an escape for her increasingly difficult home life at her friends' homes. Sleepovers were like mini-vacations for me. I got to step out of my family responsibilities and into my friends' homes where I was catered to like a crippled person. Dad wasn't in the habit of asking if he could make me something to eat, or if I wanted him to rent me something while he was at the video store. In fact, the last time I'd had Zwena over, he got her to clean the kitchen after I made dinner. Besides documenting her struggles to fit in to "kid society" in the neighborhood and at school, the book also chronicles her difficult and confusing relationship with her father, who she alternately loves and loathes. Mishna is torn between loyalty to her father and her wish to escape the lifestyle he inflicts on the family. He dates a series of successful and attractive black women, and each one seems like a potential lifeline to Mishna—an escape from the dirty, uncertain household her farther provides. Here is Mishna describing the visit to her father's new girlfriend's apartment: And the whole place was covered in light cream carpet—which I tiptoed onto like it was hot lava. I knew that cream was for careful people, and no matter how Dad was acting, that wasn't us. We were the kind of people who needed dirt-colored things. Eventually, her father remarries, and Mishna gains some new siblings. But, increasingly, her aspirations and dreams drive her to move in with her biological mother. In the end, Mishna is faced with a choice: staying with her sister and father in the life she is familiar with but never really fit or moving in with her mother and pursuing her dreams for the future. My Thoughts I'm a bit conflicted how I felt about this book. On one hand, parts of the book were very funny and Mishna's story is unique. I've not read a memoir with this point of view before. (Let's face it, memoirs with crazy, alcoholic mothers are a dime a dozen.) However, the book doesn't quite dig deep enough to find the pathos underneath the comedy. Although the book is written in a comic and almost breezy tone, much of Mishna's story is characterized by neglect and perhaps even abuse. She and her sister must often scrounge for food and can never count on having enough money for groceries. They are responsible for housecleaning and meal preparation. They are forced into uncomfortable situations time and time again. And although Mishna shares this information in the book, I don't think she truly faces head-on how difficult her father made her life. I think part of the problem is that she hasn't come to terms with her father. In fact, I felt the end of the book left things very unresolved between the two of them. I needed to know more about how things ended up between them. Although her father was a constant presence in her life, his wants and needs always seem to come first and many of his choices are just downright inappropriate and selfish. Perhaps Mishna Wolff wrote this book without having had enough time to be able to see her father through more mature eyes. She seems to skirt the pain, suffering and sadness that seem to constantly bubble below the surface of her entire childhood. Although I'm glad she was able to find comedy in her upbringing, I feel she owes it to the reader and herself to find the truth of her family life. Some of the best memoirists (I'm thinking of Mary Karr and Jeannette Walls) are able to recognize and write eloquently about both the comedy and the tragedy of their lives—thereby creating a piece of writing that fully describes and embraces the human condition. This memoir falls a bit short. My Final Recommendation Perhaps if Mishna Wolff had waited a few more years to write this book, she would have been able to create something with a little more meaning and pathos. As it is, this is an amusing memoir, but it lacks the insight and maturity to make it something more. If you are big fan of memoirs, this book isn't a bad read; it just lacks the insight that elevate the best memoirs to works of art or true statements on what it means to be human.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ranata Clark

    I really enjoyed this book. I related to this and I AM BLACK! I felt some of the struggles fitting in that Mishna Wolff felt. (view spoiler)[The scene about having to eat the government issued lunch at the day camp REALLY hit home because although I grew up in that neighborhood, I didn't GROW UP in that neighborhood. I was heavily sheltered and only hung out with the kids in my neighborhood at school. I grew up in the projects but didn't feel "poor", NEVER went hungry and was never in the neighb I really enjoyed this book. I related to this and I AM BLACK! I felt some of the struggles fitting in that Mishna Wolff felt. (view spoiler)[The scene about having to eat the government issued lunch at the day camp REALLY hit home because although I grew up in that neighborhood, I didn't GROW UP in that neighborhood. I was heavily sheltered and only hung out with the kids in my neighborhood at school. I grew up in the projects but didn't feel "poor", NEVER went hungry and was never in the neighborhood day camp. I was always sort of embarrassed but also sort of never fit in and didn't want to be made fun of because unlike Mishna, I didn't fight, I didn't cap, I didn't do anything to insert myself. That, I admired in Mishna. (hide spoiler)] I did make friends a lot easier at school than I did in the neighborhood because I just wasn't "black" enough or whatever for the project kids. The hell. I wasn't DOWN, either and my own mother used to say I don't know where you would come from but instead of try to conform, I was just me and wished I wasn't. I liked that eventually she (view spoiler)[ said eff it and moved out and decided to do her own thing. It only took forever but in the end, she did what was best for her (hide spoiler)] FINALLY. Great memoir. I shall go find her on Instagram to tell her so myself! Thank you, Mishna!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    While reading this, i vacillated from either laughing hysterically, or wanting to cry. Mishna Wolff's memoir of her childhood growing up with her dad is really pretty harrowing, but the way she talks about it and chronicles events, you cannot help but appreciate her wit. I know James Frey has ruined the memoir genre for everyone, but honestly who even cares if this story is totally true or not? Either way, the kind of things Wolff goes through as a child are possible to relate to even if your fo While reading this, i vacillated from either laughing hysterically, or wanting to cry. Mishna Wolff's memoir of her childhood growing up with her dad is really pretty harrowing, but the way she talks about it and chronicles events, you cannot help but appreciate her wit. I know James Frey has ruined the memoir genre for everyone, but honestly who even cares if this story is totally true or not? Either way, the kind of things Wolff goes through as a child are possible to relate to even if your formative years weren't a carbon copy - the alienation, embarrassment, the overwhelming pressure to be cool, to please your parents, etc. are all there. On the topic of race, I think what is really excellent about this story is that even though her dad, a white man who lives within and considers himself a part of black culture, is the main reason this story came to be, race and racial identity and how Wolff functions in her all black school and later in an almost entirely white school as an outsider are woven within the larger narrative of her life. Through that, the reader can think about race, question parts of the book and its characters, but it isn't a memoir solely about race. It is about a lot of themes, and I think it's really successful. Overall what made this book so good to me is Wolff's sense of humor and writing style. Her asides and inner monologues are truly hilarious, even if they came later in life and not as a child. Her ability to see what some people would see as tragic as a source of humor is something I really love.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

    GENRE- MEMOIR I'm Down is a memoir written by Mishna Wolff based on her life growing up as a white girl in a "wannabe" black family. Confident of being black, her white father raised Mishna and her sister in a very African American and Ghetto environment where the trend was to diss other people and speack with incorrect grammar. Having divorced parents, Mishna and her sister lived mostly with their father and stayed with their mother on the weekends. Growing up Mishna had a hard time adjusting to GENRE- MEMOIR I'm Down is a memoir written by Mishna Wolff based on her life growing up as a white girl in a "wannabe" black family. Confident of being black, her white father raised Mishna and her sister in a very African American and Ghetto environment where the trend was to diss other people and speack with incorrect grammar. Having divorced parents, Mishna and her sister lived mostly with their father and stayed with their mother on the weekends. Growing up Mishna had a hard time adjusting to the "ghetto" customs of her school, and when her mother finally announces that she will be going to a private "rich kid school" Mishna is not sure if she will be able to fit in with her "ghetto" backround. Just as she had thought, the kids in Mishna's new school tease and make fun of her ways of speaking, and Mishna feels highly intimidated by the spoiled preps she is constantly surrounded by. Wanting to fit in, Mishna is determined to try her very best to make excellent grades in school and become involved in many extra curricular activities so that she can become "respected" by these kids and be able to attend an Ivy league university someday like everybody else. This memoir was very interesting and I loved reading about Mishna's adventures through childhood and growing up in such a mixed up family. I would definitely reccomend this book and I give it a five star rating.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Magpie67

    For me this wasn't a complete memoir even after the author puts down on paper... this is best to her recollection of events as she remembers from her early age of growing up. Mishna left out crucial details of time spent with mother on weekends after the divorce. She wasn't always stuck in this neighborhood growing up. Issues: Really a working mother who didn't think she could get her children away from a father who was not working and the house conditions were questionable? Whether, the man had For me this wasn't a complete memoir even after the author puts down on paper... this is best to her recollection of events as she remembers from her early age of growing up. Mishna left out crucial details of time spent with mother on weekends after the divorce. She wasn't always stuck in this neighborhood growing up. Issues: Really a working mother who didn't think she could get her children away from a father who was not working and the house conditions were questionable? Whether, the man had an attorney for a brother or not... I would have fought hard for my children, fought for dual custody. The dad was an ass, a piece of crap who didn't raise his children properly, who's ego was out of control. I saw no humor, the child was brought up white in a black neighborhood, never fit in, was sent to an all white school where wealth was prominent and thus she didn't fit in there either. Not because she was white, but because she was poor. The parents were the demise of her anxiety, stress and headaches. Mishna never knew where she should be or how she should act. The end.... it just stops. Memoir's with cliff hangers? Weird.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie G.

    This book was straight up disturbing. I make jokes about things that are sad or embarrassing as part of my processing. I am a fan of rather dark humor. Still, there are some things I can't laugh at, and I am glad of it. On that list are child abuse, child endangerment, child neglect, abandonment, domestic violence, people who are so lazy they leech off the system rather than getting off their asses and going to work, etc. I am a Marc Maron fan, so I expected a delightfully screwed up archness he This book was straight up disturbing. I make jokes about things that are sad or embarrassing as part of my processing. I am a fan of rather dark humor. Still, there are some things I can't laugh at, and I am glad of it. On that list are child abuse, child endangerment, child neglect, abandonment, domestic violence, people who are so lazy they leech off the system rather than getting off their asses and going to work, etc. I am a Marc Maron fan, so I expected a delightfully screwed up archness here from his ex-wife, but all I got was sadness and rationalization from a woman twice as damaged and half as clever as she thinks. Additionally, this book is not about what it purports to be about. It is about class-divisions (which is good fodder for a better book) rather than the complications of living "Black" (whatever that means.) Based on the cover blurbs from publications as unsophisticated as Entertainment Weekly and as dull as Time Magazine that hailed it as hilarious it would appear it is just me, but I really don't think so.

  29. 4 out of 5

    LibraryCin

    Mishna was a white girl raised in a poor black neighbourhood in Seattle. Her father wanted to think he was black, so that’s the neighbourhood he chose to raise his two daughters. Mishna, in particular, had a hard time fitting in when she was young. Once she finally started making friends in the neighbourhood, though she still lived there, she had tested high on some academic tests, so she had to switch to a school in a rich neighbourhood with smart rich kids, and once again, she didn’t know how Mishna was a white girl raised in a poor black neighbourhood in Seattle. Her father wanted to think he was black, so that’s the neighbourhood he chose to raise his two daughters. Mishna, in particular, had a hard time fitting in when she was young. Once she finally started making friends in the neighbourhood, though she still lived there, she had tested high on some academic tests, so she had to switch to a school in a rich neighbourhood with smart rich kids, and once again, she didn’t know how to fit in there. I really liked this book. She wrote it, mostly with a humourous slant, but it was sad to see that her father did not treat her well. His girlfriends varied on how they treated Mishna. She did learn later on that even some of the rich kids, despite their money, had problems, as well. She was born not long after me, so I certainly identified with much of the 80s culture, in general, which is always fun. It was a quick read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    I did not enjoy this book - I felt like it relied heavily on stereotypes to provide comedic effect, which was unsuccessful. Living in Seattle, I had also hoped that this might be an interesting view of a neighborhood, but it could really have taken place in any city where there are majority black and majority white residential areas. It did prompt decent discussion as a book club pick.

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