Sunday, May 24, 2009

Review of Mishna Wolff’s Memoir, I’m Down

Don’t be fooled. As funny as I’m Down, a memoir about humorist and former model Mishna Wolff’s upbringing is, it’s not really about growing up as a white girl in the all black, Rainer Valley neighborhood in Seattle during the 1980s. Instead, it’s really a touching tribute to her father, John Wolff, who might just be the kind of afro-centric, white guy Norman Mailer was describing in his essay about the White Negro, illustrated by the way, as Mishna puts it, “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. He walked like a black man, he talked like a black man and he played sports like a black man.”

Even if it’s not exactly as it’s advertised out to be, though, it still works on many levels, and that’s mostly because Mishna is honest about her childhood, revealing what pretty much every child learns at some point in their life—that growing up is hard to do.

This is never more evident than in the chapter “Flagrant Foul” when Mishna is forced to play on an all-black basketball team just because her father can’t think of any other way to keep her from growing up. Revealing the ins and outs of generally sucking at something, Mishna opens up about how she didn’t want to shoot any baskets because she didn’t want to disrupt her teammates from beating other teams by over a hundred points. It’s when she starts to shake off these apprehensions though that this punchy memoir begins to unravel itself to its emotional core and reveal its ultimate lesson—that being different isn’t always so bad. And by the end of this promising first book, Mishna comes out looking like roses.


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