From the executive story editor of Scrubs, a terrific memoir about her Philadelphia childhood.
Nissel’s mother, a Black Panther from West Philadelphia, married a white man from upstate Pennsylvania; together they had two children. “Where are you from?” was the refrain Nissel and her brother most often heard from whites; from blacks, it was, “You talk white.” Determined to find her niche, she tried to become “more authentically black” by wearing cornrows, which lasted until she dived underwater at the local pool. She also considered Judaism, reflecting, “They have their own school and their own language. It’s like a club.” (A friend replied: “Well, for your sake, it’d better be a nice club because being black and Jewish, you won’t be able to get into any other ones.”) After her philandering father abandoned them, the family moved frequently, living—and earning equal doses of scorn—in neighborhoods both poor and wealthy. While a student at the University of Pennsylvania, Nissel posted an online journal about her financial struggles that was later published as The Broke Diaries (not reviewed). But it wasn’t poverty that led to her brief hospitalization for clinical depression during college; despite her quips about racism, endless queries regarding her ethnicity proved wearing. A fellow student in what Nissel jokingly refers to as the “Nation of Islam Lite” broke off their friendship, citing as her reason, “a child is the race of his father.” During a temporary gig with the IRS, a white female coworker asked her to recommend books about “the black experience.” Eventually, Nissel decided to try her fortunes on the West Coast, where she seems to be thriving. Readers will be grateful that she’s willing to revisit her challenging past: Colorful anecdotes, marvelous dialogue and a thoughtful narrative make this memoir a delight.
A well-crafted portrait of growing up biracial in the United States.