Friday, March 27, 2009

Review: Secret Daughter by June Cross

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Penguin (April 24, 2007)
ISBN-13: 9780143112112
Genre: Memoir
Rating: 4/5 stars

June Cross was born in 1954 to Norma Booth, a glamorous, aspiring white actress, and James "Stump" Cross, a well-known black comedian. Sent by her mother to be raised by black friends when she was four years old and could no longer pass as white, June was plunged into the pain and confusion of a family divided by race. Secret Daughter tells her story of survival. It traces June's astonishing discoveries about her mother and about her own fierce determination to thrive. This is an inspiring testimony to the endurance of love between mother and daughter, a child and her adoptive parents, and the power of community.

Secret Daughter is not one of those memoirs where the author chronicles their miserable childhood and then blames all the problems in adulthood on their upbringing. Instead, Secret Daughter is a story of family and love, of differences and similarities, and ultimately, understanding.

Cross had a difficult childhood, and her uncertainty about where she fit in really comes across without being terribly negative. Cross's writing is very honest throughout the book. She doesn't portray her mother as a terrible person, but she also doesn't sugarcoat the slights and criticisms she endured at her mother's hands. You can tell she loves her mother but wishes things could have been different. I love the following quote as it really portrays both the challenges and rewards of her childhood.

"Described from the ridge of adulthood, my childhood seems impossibly difficult.
Yet, no one who knew me in those years remembers a downtrodden little girl, and
I don't remember feeling like one. Indeed, my life seemed charmed."

Secret Daughter does a wonderful job of describing the feeling of the times during the 60's and 70's. Cross talks about her own experiences with relation to the relevant current events, like marches and riots, happening across the county. This was especially helpful to me as I don't have any first hand knowledge of the unrest during the Civil Rights movement.

As I was reading this book I was reminded of The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride. The stories are very different, but the theme of belonging and acceptance was central to both. If you've enjoyed The Color of Water I highly recommend Secret Daughter. 4 stars

June Cross's website
A special thank you to Paula at AME for my review copy


Gwendolyn B. said...

Nice review -- I had heard of this book, but now I'll be sure and get my hands on a copy!

Missy B. said...

Sounds like something I would enjoy reading...thanks for the great review!

Sandy Nawrot said...

It is heartbreaking to hear of little ones growing up under such stress and confusion. It probably made her a very strong adult, but still.

Literary Feline said...

Great review, Melissa! This sounds like worthwhile memoir.

Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books said...

As soon as I read the premise of THE SECRET DAUGHTER I thought of THE COLOR OF WATER ... then read further in your review and saw your connection between the two.

I'm a student of American Social History (always a student, even though I graduated eons ago! :) ); I think this would be a great addition to my library.

BookWormz said...

This looks really good - it reminds me so much of "The Help" by Katheryn Stockett - there is a storyline in that novel about this type of story.