A young black woman’s search for identity takes her from a blue-collar Latino neighborhood in San Jose, Calif., to Silicon Valley, Harvard and beyond.
Debut memoirist Millner describes her childhood as a “mélange of cheerful American pragmatism and Latin baroque and African-American skepticism.” In each of these worlds, she remained the observant outsider. When she was a teenager, her parents, who placed a high value on education, moved the family to Almaden Valley, where she attended a nearly all-white, all-girls Catholic high school. Her struggles with racism at the school led to her first published piece, an article in the San Jose Mercury News that brought uncomfortable notoriety to the overachieving teenager. During this time, Millner was using marijuana, mushrooms, acid and alcohol; cocaine and amphetamines would follow. Fortunately, she found a better way of dealing with her anger and despair by writing for Youth Outlook, a nonprofit organization that gives disadvantaged teens a chance to report and write for the mainstream media. After high school, Millner enrolled at Harvard. The university had a substantial African-American community, but she soon became disenchanted by the disconnect between the other black students’ words and their actions. During a later stay in South Africa, she had a disastrous love affair with an Englishman, a frustrating venture into political activism in a Cape Town neighborhood and a troubling visit to a settlement created exclusively for descendants of white settlers. Millner writes rather obliquely about her experiences and her occasionally bruising encounters with aspects of American culture: Concrete details take second place to feelings, and influential figures in her life are described in carefully crafted first-person essays.
The reader is left with unanswered questions, and the author remains a stranger.