Review of Waking Up White by Debby Irving

I am on a journey to better understand racism. I should have started by reading Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving. In clear, understandable stories and descriptions, she explains her journey to better understand racism and how white privilege played a role in her family’s successes. I have read a number of other books about racism including How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram Kendi and White Fragility by Robin Diangelo, but for me, Waking Up White has been the most illuminating.

Irving has been a pubic school teacher for many years in Massachusetts. Over the years, she worked very hard to help ensure that all children, regardless of race or class, had equal opportunities in the classroom. Despite her efforts, she saw patterns of Black children falling beginning during the first, second, and third grade school years. She tried doubling down on her attention towards these children. She tried giving them more encouragement. She tried talking to the Black families to identify strategies to help these children. But nothing worked. Black children continued to show decline in their engagement and educational outcomes by the third grade.

Irving did not give up. She broadened her understanding of racism by examining herself. She formed relationships with people of color, had the hard conversations about race (asking a lot of questions and listening), and attended diversity conferences. She considered the “white privilege” that improved her family’s standing in society. Her father fought in WWII (like many Black soldiers did), and after the war, he was awarded the GI bill which paid for his college and law school education, and provided the first down payment on their family home. Black soldiers were routinely denied the same benefits (see

Irving considered how this one privilege that her family received and many Black families did not because of racism, impacted the social and economic divide that we see today. With the help of the government grant, Irving’s father went on to be a successful lawyer providing the family with safety and comfort. Through her father’s success, the family paid the college tuition for Irving and her siblings, and then left them an inheritance. The next generation will use this inheritance to pay for college tuition and down payments on their homes. Certainly, the family worked hard to grow the initial investment, but Irving’s family received this benefit or privilege, and many similarly situation Black families did not.

In this framework, it is easy to see the white privilege. Of course, not all white families had a grandfather who fought in WWII and received the GI bill, but using this example, I was able to piece together how my success is directly tied to white privilege. Just the fact that my white grandparents and great-grandparents were not hampered and threatened by the Jim Crow laws (the laws that required separate restaurants, drinking fountains, schools, gas stations, etc.) gave my family the privilege to pursue better employment, be entrepreneurs, attend college or trade school, and save money for the next generation.

But why does all of this impact Black children today? Irving does such a nice job pulling it all together and I can’t possibly do it justice in this article. Please know that the laws, policies and practices that were put into place 75 years ago by politicians who are no longer alive today, do impact how Black children see themselves and their opportunities in this world. Please read this book. You will learn so much about yourself, the world we live in, and the challenges of the Black community. I read a lot of books in a year, and this is absolutely one of the best I’ve read. I actually listened to this book on audio and it was fabulous.

This book would be very good for a book club. Irving closes out each chapter with thought-provoking, discussion questions. Waking Up White is a 5-star book for me. I hope you enjoy it and learn as much as I did about racism.

Discussion Questions

Have you read Waking Up White by Debby Irving, How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram Kendi, White Fragility by Robin Diangelo, or other books about race? If so, which book helped you understand racism the best?

Have you read other stories about people who are different from you? If so, do you have any book recommendations?

Find Me

I am Cathy Nestrick. You can find me at It’s A Wonderful Book on Instagram and It’s A Wonderful Book Facebook page. Happy reading!

The Book of Pride by Mason Funk

Mason Funk has made it his life’s mission to document the long journey and struggle of the LGBTQ community for equality. He is the Founder and Executive Director of Outwords, which is a non-profit organization focused on documenting the history of the LGBTQ community in the United States. You can learn more about Outwords at Funk also wrote The Book of Pride, and the proceeds from the sale of this book go to support Outwords.

In The Book of Pride, Funk said that he was concerned that if we don’t document the challenges faced by the LGBTQ movement, then the history will be lost or not believed by future generations. He compared the movement to the Holocaust which is documented by many photographs and records, yet still, there are those who believe that the Holocaust was made up or a hoax. Funk is trying to make sure that there is a good record of what happened and when, and who the major leaders were and what they overcame, in order to achieve more LGBTQ equality.

I grew up in the Midwest during the 70s and 80s. During that time, people didn’t talk much about L or G, and there was no mention (in my memory) of B, T, or Q until I was well into adulthood. While I have acquired more understanding over the years, I still approached The Book of Pride with a fair amount of ignorance. I specifically looked for a book about the LGBTQ community so that I could learn more, and The Book of Pride did not disappoint. I found the book to be interesting, engaging, shocking at times, and above all, educational. Each chapter is a different person with a different story, and together, they document the history of the LGBTQ community’s fight for equality.

The stories start with the LGBTQ movement in the 1960s. The themes include conflicts with the police, the importance of gay bars as a safe haven and community, the extremely high suicide rates for LGBTQ children and adults, and the additional challenges for LGBTQ women and minorities. There are plenty of light moments and laughter to balance the difficulties described in the stories. No one can be serious all the time, including these 75 excellent storytellers.

The storytellers include former U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Alan Steinman who is an advocate for the open service of LGBT in the U.S. military, who spoke up for the withdrawal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. And Betsy Parsons, a retired English teacher who said that in the 1990s, it was normal for students to target members of the LGBTQ community with physical harassment, shoving, hitting, tripping, and punching. “Teachers would not typically intervene because to target LGBT people was acceptable.” And Richard Zaldivar who is the founder and executive director of The Wall Las Memorias Project, a non-profit dedicated to promoting wellness and prevent illness for Latino populations affected by HIV/AIDS. Despite death threats, he has brought more awareness HIV/AIDS and acceptance of the LGBTQ community throughout the country.

If you are interested in learning more about the LGBTQ community and the history of their push for equality, then I recommend The Book of Pride. I listened to the audio version and it was excellent.

Discussion Questions:

Have you read any book about the LGBTQ community or movement that taught you something new? If so, what book do you recommend?

Do you have a story that you can share about how LGBTQ inclusion helped you someone else?

What other books have you read that really made you think about people who are different from you?

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson and The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

I read The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Wilson and fell in love with it. The book is historical fiction at its finest and follows the character of Cussy Mary who disagrees with society’s expectations that she should marry and have as many babies as possible. Instead, she finds employment with the Packhorse Library, a New Deal program started by President Roosevelt to employ Americans during the Great Depression. The community of Troublesome Creek is mighty suspicious of women traveling by horse and mule to deliver books. This is a time when men are the head of all churches, communities, and households, and some of these men are concerned about what these books might teach their women and children. Cussy Mary and her fellow librarians not only risk their lives every day traveling treacherous trails, but also the wrath of the town elders who are quite satisfied with the status quo, to bring books with new information and ideas to the mountain people.

Cussy Mary is also a “Blue Kentuckian.” Her skin appears to be blue as a result of a well-documented genetic blood disease that originated in France. Martin Fugate whose family was from France, married Elizabeth Smith in the 1800s and settled near Hazard, Kentucky, and they had several children with the disease. Hence, a community of “Blue Kentuckians” emerged.

I enjoyed this book so well that I also read The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes which is another work of historical fiction about the Packhorse Library in Kentucky. The Giver of Stars does not include “Blue Kentuckians,” but there are many other similarities. In both books, there are themes of women and Black Kentuckians pressing for their rights, and living with the consequences when things don’t go as they hoped, so that they could live with at least some of the same freedom and pursuit of happiness as the White men. Both books also explore justice and how it is imperative that governments, courts, and judges be unbiased and free from the influence of money and power.

But mostly, these books are about the power of friendship. The women in these books were able to make some progress because they banded together with like-minded people. They would have made little or no progress if they had worked independently – there is power in groups, and these women in the 1930s instinctively knew that sticking together was the only way to get things done.

Both of these books are excellent and I rate them both 5/5. The Giver of Stars is more highly acclaimed, so I naturally started with The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. If you enjoy one, then you must read the other one. Both were available on my library app.

Discussion Questions:

Have you read either of these books? If so, what did you think about these books?

What other books have you read about women or other minority groups pushing for more rights?

What other books have you read that really made you think about people who are different from you?

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is an autobiography of Maya Angelou’s chaotic childhood from her first memories through the age of 16. She lived in more places with more people in parenting roles than I have had in a lifetime. She and her beloved brother, Bailey, were mostly raised by their strict, no-nonsense grandmother (“Momma”) in Stamps, Arkansas in an all-Black community during segregation. You will respect Momma for her entrepreneurial savvy that sometimes resulted in “white folk” borrowing money from her to get by. You will meet Willie, Momma’s son and Maya’s uncle, who has a disability and is often ridiculed by the community. Uncle Willie keeps a watchful eye on Maya and Bailey, and they do the same for him.

Maya and Bailey visit their parents only sporadically, and when they do, things always go wrong. “Mother” is a beautiful, independent women who tends to focus on her own life, and “Daddy” is a loud, handsome man full of bravado who hasn’t really grown up himself. They have various spouses and significant others, and all of them prove to be ill-equipped to raise children.

During one trip to visit Mother, Maya was raped. She was 8 years old at the time. The scene is horrifying but not graphically told, partly because as an 8-year old, Maya didn’t have a good understanding of what was happening. Still, she felt tremendous guilt and shame about the incident and was unable to trust others for a very long time.

Maya grew up during that terrible time in American history when segregation was how we interacted with each other. One of the scenes described in the book has really stuck with me. When Maya was young, she had horrible tooth pain, and the Black dentist was gone. Momma was convinced that the White dentist would help, and so they went to see him. At the back door, the White dentist refused them entrance and he made despicable comments about treating a Black patient. Readers later learn that Momma had loaned the White dentist money, and that’s why she was convinced he would help her granddaughter who was in pain. There are many injustices described in the book, but this one left me feeling angry and incredulous – why would a medical provider do such a thing?

Despite segregation, I was struck by the diversity of the people in Maya’s life. Uncle Willie had a disability and she saw how people laughed and ridiculed him; at times, she had white and Hispanic friends; she lived in the South in a deeply segregated Black community and she also lived in San Francisco where Black Americans had different opportunities, albeit certainly not their fair share. She also observed the “disappearance” of Japanese Americans living in San Francisco after Pearl Harbor was bombed. When President Roosevelt ordered the relocation and internment of Japanese Americans, many of their homes and small businesses were taken by others. Maya, who was known for her empathy and social activism, was surely impacted by the diversity of these people in her life.

This book is required reading for many American students – it is a unique way to learn American history from the viewpoint of a Black American during segregation. There have, however, been many attempts to ban the book. According to the American Library Association, it is #3 in the “Top 100 Frequently Challenged Books.” In my view, history is something to be faced and not hidden away. Our children need to understand how America has evolved over time – much of our history is admiral but some of it is painful, immoral, and unequitable. If we are going to teach the good parts, we also need to teach the bad parts.

I was curious about the title of this book. Maya Angelou borrowed the “caged bird” symbolism from a poet who wrote:

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,

When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,

When he beats his bars and would be free,

It is not a carol of joy or glee,

But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,

But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings,

I know why the caged bird sings.

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Maya Angelou was a strong advocate for equality and justice. If you have any interest in social justice or American history, then you should definitely read this book. This book was a 4-star book for me – and a must read because of its historical importance.

Discussion Questions:

Have you read I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings or any other book by Maya Angelou? If so, what did you think about these books?

What other books have you read about segregation – either in the United States or other countries – that you would recommend to others?

What other books have you read that really made you think about people who are different from you?

Know My Name

Her name is Chanel Miller. She was sexually assaulted while attending a party at Stanford University in 2015. Brock Turner, a 19 year-old student, was convicted of sexually assaulting Chanel behind a dumpster while she was unconscious. How did she get behind the dumpster? We will never know. As many people her age do, Chanel drank too much that night and she has no memory of what happened. If it wasn’t for two male graduate students who happened to be walking by the dumpster, Turner might have gotten away with his crime. Brock tried to run away from the scene, but the graduate students tackled and held him until the police arrived.

Turner was ultimately convicted of three crimes:

-sexual penetration with a foreign object of an intoxicated person

-sexual penetration with a foreign object of an unconscious person

-intent to commit rape

After the juries conviction, it was up to Judge Aaron Persky to sentence Turner for these crimes. He was eligible for up to 14 years in prision. However, the judge sentenced Turner to only 6 months in the county jail (he actually served only 3 months) because he didn’t want Turner to go to prison (which is harder core than a county jail) because prison would have a “severe impact” on Turner. Of Judge Persky, Chanel said, “The Judge had given Brock something that would never be extended to me: empathy.”

At the sentencing hearing, Chanel read a statement aloud which was published by Buzzfeed the following day. With a national media platform, Chanel was able to tell her story in such an eloquent and powerful way, that outraged California voters eventually removed Judge Persky from office. Would a female judge have made a different decision? Would a female judge have had greater empathy for the victim’s experience? Remarkably, Judge Persky seemed to understand and relate more to Turner’s suffering if he went to prison (“severe impact”) as compared to Chanel’s harrowing experience as the victim. We can’t know if a different decision would have been made by a female judge, but this case certainly brings home the importance of having more women in positions of power.

Know My Name builds on the statement Chanel read at the sentencing hearing. The book is many things, but for one, it is an indictment of the legal system. All too often, the focus during rape and sexual assault trials is on the behavior of the victim – Was she drunk? How much did she drink? What did she drink? What was she wearing? Did she want to have sex? This focus reminds women of the negative consequences of calling the police and pressing charges at a point in time when women just need empathy, privacy, understanding, and support. This appalling state of American law has been the subject of many songs, poems, and books, including Keith Urban’s song, Female, which includes the line:

When somebody laughs and implies that she asked for it

Just ‘cause she was wearing a skirt

Oh is that how it works  

No, that’s not how it works. Know My Name should be required reading for all 16 year olds. If we all have a greater understanding of the victim’s experience, we can provide more support – whether we are friends or family of victims, police officers or hospital workers who are on the front lines, members of the jury or judges making decisions about these cases, or the media which influences how we all think about rape and sexual assault.

Know My Name is a heartfelt account of Chanel’s sexual assault as told from the victim’s point of view. It will leave you feeling sad and heart-broken at times, but also thankful and hopeful because there are people who do understand. These are some of the quotes from the book that have really stuck with me and made me think:

I didn’t know that if a woman was drunk when the violence occurred, she wouldn’t be taken seriously. I didn’t know that if he was drunk when the violence occurred, people would offer him sympathy.

They seemed angry that I’d made myself vulnerable, more than the fact that he had acted on my vulnerability.

-I didn’t know that being a victim was synonymous with not being believed.

Amazingly, Chanel is hopeful and positive about the world. She is retelling her story to help others. She says that “living is an incredible thing, just to have been here, to have felt, if only briefly, the volume and depth of others’ empathy. I wrote, most of all, to tell you I have seen how good the world can be.” I highly recommend this book. I listened to the audio version read by Chanel and it was excellent – I love it when the author reads the book. You can also read the statement that Chanel wrote and read aloud at the sentencing hearing at this link:

Discussion Questions:

What do you think about Chanel Miller’s story? Could you have been as courageous and honest as she was in the public telling of her own sexual assault?

In honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, I am reading books by women and about women. What are you doing to celebrate?

What other books have you read that really made you think about people who are different from you?

Whiskey in a Teacup by Reese Witherspoon

Hey, y’all, I’m reading books by women and about women in March to celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. I’ve read some heavy books so far this month – Educated, Know My Name, and Notorious RBG – and I wanted something light, fun, and just a tad bit educational. Whiskey in a Teacup hit the spot.

I’m not a “y’all” kinda gal, but Reese is. I listened to this book on audio (it was free for Audible subscriptions), and the best part was hearing Reese read it aloud. It is full of Southern Belle wisdom and charm, with a dose of “girl power” and “you go girl” that matches perfectly with Reese’s Hollywood projects bringing us more movies and tv shows about real women.

Some of her advice includes:

“A lot of key moments in life are like that: You can be nervous as all get out. Just drink a beer and do it anyway.”

“We always say in the South that good manners are a kind of passport. If you have good manners, you can go everywhere and people are glad to have you around.”

“If it’s not moving, monogram it.”

There are also some serious, educational moments. Did you know that the suffragettes marching for the right to vote all wore red lipstick so that they could stand in solidarity together? Of this, Reese said that “it’s a reminder that we don’t have to diminish ourselves as women to be seen as strong.”

If you’re looking for a light, fun, short audiobook about Southern women and charm, I recommend giving Whiskey in a Teacup a try. Especially if you’re a Reese Witherspoon fan! Have fun y’all!!

Discussion Questions:

In honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, I am reading books by women and about women. What are you doing to celebrate?

Reese Witherspoon has a Book Club and she has recommended books such as The Jetsetters, Where the Crawdads Sing, Daisy Jones and the Six, and Such a Fun Age. All her recommendations are by women authors. Have you read any Reese’s Book Club recommendations? If so, what did you think about the book?

What other books have you read that really made you think about people who are different from you?

Educated by Tara Westover

Educated is an amazing, 5-star book because Tara Westover, the author and focus of this autobiography, has lived an amazing life. She was raised by survivalists in the mountains of Idaho and was not allowed to attend school. Her father dominated the household and he was suspicious of all institutions – government, doctors, medicine, science, and schools, to name a few. He was convinced that the government would come after the family, and they each had a “head for the hills” bag in the event that happened.

Tara’s mother was a midwife and herbalist (because her father didn’t want his family to rely on doctors) and Tara was often her assistant. She also worked in her father’s junkyard, which was an extremely dangerous job because of her father’s total disregard for the safety of Tara and her brothers. Her mother routinely tended to the family’s concussions, gashes, and serious burns.

Reflecting back on her growing up years, Tara said that “my life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.” She began finding her own voice when she started teaching herself reading and math in spite of her father’s disapproval. She is exceptionally bright and was admitted to Brigham Young University at the age of 17. After graduating from BYU, she attended Cambridge University in London.

Still, Tara was not on the same level as her college classmates. Others had ordinary knowledge that she did not, like basic social skills, how to form friendships, how to receive help and kindness from others, and the importance of cleanliness. “I could tolerate any form of cruelty better than kindness. Praise was a poison to me; I choked on it.” Tara was also unaware of historical world events like the holocaust and the U.S. civil rights movement because “what a person knows about the past is limited, and will always be limited, to what they are told by others.”

Educated is a story about an extraordinary woman rising up in the face of extraordinary obstacles; about how interconnected we are with each other and our history; about how we can be the change and the help that a person needs to transform their unfortunate circumstances into a productive and happy life; about the absolute, paramount importance of a free, public education throughout the world; about the debilitating impact of being raised by a parent suffering from mental illness; and about how change does not happy overnight, but takes time. I am impatient, and so this last lesson, is the hardest one for me.

So many big topics to reflect on, including how we become the person that we are today through our vast education. We are taught not only by teachers but also by parents, friends, co-workers, books, churches, the news, and all the other ways that we collect information in this modern world. We are also taught by the many experiences we have with each other, the places we visit, and the new things that we try. In the words of the author, “The decisions I made after that moment were not the ones she would have made. They were the choices of a changed person, a new self. You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal. I call it an education.”

This month is the celebration of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. Reading Tara Westover’s Education – about a woman and by a woman – is one of the many ones we can celebrate.

Discussion Questions:

In honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, I am reading books by women and about women. What are you doing to celebrate?

Have you read Education? If so, what did you learn?

What other books have you read that really made you think about people who are different from you?

The Only Plane In The Sky, An Oral History of 9/11

by Garrett Graff

The Only Plane In the Sky should be required reading for all Americans. We all know what happened on September 11, 2001, and I bet most you remember where you were when you first heard the terrible news. I was in Seattle, Washington at a seminar, scheduled to return home the following day. I was mesmerized and stunned by the news as we all were. In a sense, we all lived through that day, but you will further appreciate the depth of the loss when you hear from the people who were most directly impacted by the worst attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor.

This book is available in print and audio. I highly recommend the audio version because you hear the voices of so many different people and how the day affected each of them. You will hear from:

  • Employees working in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon – some of them made it out and for those who did not, you hear their last messages to family members
  • A woman in labor who delivered her baby in New York City during the chaos and uncertainty that marked that day
  • Firefighters, like Paul McFadden, who lost 46 friends in a single day
  • President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, with their disbelief, fears, and reactions throughout the day and
  • So many other people throughout NYC and the world who watched in horror as the Twin Towers fell.

The story unfolds with a sequence of contrasts. The blue, sunny skies turned black. The noise of the city turned silent. One woman was terminated that morning from a business located in the Twin Towers – she left upset and fearful about paying her bills – but within hours, she was thankful. Others weren’t so lucky like Sean Rooney, VP of Risk Management of Aon Corporation. His wife said, “We met when we were only 16, at a high school dance. When he died, we were 50. I remember how I didn’t want that day to end, terrible as it was. I didn’t want to go to sleep because as long as I was awake, it was still a day that I shared with Sean.”

The work of the air traffic controllers that day is not something we necessarily remember, but their work was incredibly important, as all planes were ordered to land. “To put 4,500 aircraft on the ground in places where they were not supposed to go – at the same time that the military is trying to get airborne and control the chaos – is an incredible feat of air traffic controllers and air traffic managers coordinating that.”

The book was written by Garrett Graff who was masterful at describing how luck or fate decided whether so many lived or died. We all make choices every day that impact where we are at precise moments in time. Should I sleep in today? Maybe I will stop for coffee on my way to work. My son forgot his backpack, again, so I need to drop it off before heading in. Is traffic fast or slow? How long will it take me to find a parking spot? Some people survived on 9/11 day because of these kinds of choices, and others were not so lucky.

The kindness of humanity on that day amazes me. Firefighters and police officers ran into burning buildings, and even after it was understood that many of them would die, they stayed. Co-workers put themselves in harm’s way to stay together. Random people offered assistance to strangers, and some of them lived and some of them died as a result of their generosity. The race, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, religion, and nationality of people that day didn’t matter. Political party affiliation didn’t matter. As people, we stuck together.

In the words of one first responder, “We took the time to shake each other’s hands and wish each other good luck nad “Hope I’ll see you later,” which is especially poignant for me because we all had that acknowledgment that this might be our last day on earth and we went to work anyway.”

You will learn so much from this book. There are details that I never knew, and others that I simply forgot. It is a tough, emotional read, but the stories are important to hear and for me, listening helped to honor those who lost their lives on 9/11.

Discussion Questions:

Have you read The Last Plane In the Sky, and if so, what did you think about the book?

Have you visited the 9/11 monument in New York City, and if so, did the monument capture the emotional impact of the day?

What other books have you read that really made you think about other people?

Our Harlem

Marcus Samuelsson is an Ethiopian Swedish chef – he was born in Ethiopia but when he was separated from his biological parents during a civil war, he was adopted and raised by a Swedish family. He has accomplished so much as a chef –  opened highly acclaimed restaurants in New York City and other locations, written award-winning cookbooks, taught as a visiting professor at the Swedish Umea University School of Restaurant and Culinary Arts, hosted the television shows Inner Chef and Urban Cuisine, and served as a cooking judge on Top Chef, Iron Chef USA, Iron Chef American and Chopped.

He is successful by any measure, but given his tumultuous beginnings, his success is very impressive. On top of all this, he is the chef at the Red Rooster in Harlem, a venue with African American music and Southern cuisine. In honor of Black History Month, the restaurant featured special food and drinks, including cocktails called Fred Sandford’s Elizabeth and Black is Beautiful.

In Our Harlem, Marcus has conversations with lots of people about Harlem. Warning!! Do not listen to this book while you are hungry! Most of the interviews are done while Marcus is cooking. You can frequently hear food sizzling in the background, or people eating their meals and exclaiming how good the food tastes. You will also be frequently regaled with music and other sounds of Harlem.

Marcus talks to a variety of people who contributed to the Harlem culture, whether they are entrepreneurs, long-standing residents, musicians, or neighborhood activists, and he also talks about some of his own contributions. One of my favorite stories was when President Obama visited the Red Rooster and was served a Red Rooster specialty, short ribs.

I have a new interest in Harlem, having listened to the book. The food and music that you hear about in the book are comforting and uplifting. There was such pride in the voices of everyone who participated in the making of this book. I didn’t realize the role that Harlem has played as one of the major centers of African American culture, but now that I better understand its role, I’m looking forward to re-exploring the history and culture of this city.

The audio version is the only way to read this book. Marcus teamed up with Audible to create these stories, so that is your only option. As an Audible subscriber, the book was free for me during the month of February. If you hurry, you might be able to download the book for free too. I rate this book as a 3.5/5.

Discussion Questions:

In honor of Black History Month, I am reading books about African Americans. What are you doing to celebrate Black History Month?

Have you been to Harlem or the Red Rooster? If so, what did you think?

What other books have you read that really made you think about people who are different from you?

The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is a fictional story about Starr Carter who was present when a police officer killed her best friend, Khalil, who was unarmed. Starr is 16 years old and wise beyond her years. She’s smart, sensitive, funny, and warm, but she’s also a real person and makes mistakes. You will like Starr. She spends her days at a suburban white school where she speaks and behaves in a certain way to fit in. She spends her evenings and weekends at her home in Garden Heights, a poor neighborhood where stores have bullet proof glass and drive-by shootings are commonplace. Moving between these worlds takes a lot of energy – she speaks and behaves differently depending on where she is. She doesn’t feel like she can just be herself in most situations, and that is exhausting and sometimes confusing to her.

Starr is central to the investigation of Khalil’s death. She was in the car when the police officer pulled them over, and she witnessed the events leading up to the police officer shooting Khalil 3 times in the back. She held Khalil in her arms while he died with the police officer pointing a gun at her. Starr has to make a number of very tough decisions. Should she speak up for Khalil and challenge the incorrect story given by the police officer? Can she talk to her suburban friends about what happened, or will they view her differently if she admits that she was with Khalil when he was killed? Should she talk to the police and the district attorney about what happened, even if by doing so, she draws the wrath of a dangerous drug dealer in her community who has his own agenda?

This book tackles many issues head on. You will read about race and racism, interracial relationships and how those can be viewed negatively by both the black and white communities, how gangs have such an allure because they provide acceptance and success for people who have very few opportunities, how bias plays a role in how we view other people based on the color of their skin or gender, how the wealth of a neighborhood determines school resources, how variances in school resources results in different outcomes and opportunities for students,  and what it’s like to be black and be accused of acting “white.”

You will also meet lovely people who choose to live in Garden Heights because they want to transform the neighborhood into a safer community with more prosperity.  Mr. Reuben, a local restaurant owner, gives kids free meals when they bring him their report cards, whether their grades are worthy of praise or not. Starr’s dad owns a grocery store and employs high school boys to give them an alternative to gangs. And there are many others you will meet in this book who are trying to be the change.

I have long been flummoxed about the problems between so many black communities and the police in the U.S. The Hate U Give was brilliant for me, because I now better understand the fear driven by bias (assumptions we make about other people based upon what they look like). Biologically speaking, fear is supposed to protect us – it kicks in our instinctive fight or flight response – but it also diverts blood away from the part of our brain that controls logical thinking. If neither police nor the person in custody is thinking logically during those high stakes interactions, misunderstandings are more likely to occur. If we can eliminate the bias through better education, diversity and inclusion training, and the like, then we have the power to reduce fear and put an end to these terrible outcomes.

I don’t have it all figured out, but I do feel more informed. The worst part of the book is that it is fiction so I won’t be able to meet Starr Carter. I don’t have any doubt, though, that there are many strong and courageous people in the world who are living similar lives. I hope that they read this book and are inspired by Starr.

I highly recommend the audio version of this book. It was excellent and the narrator brought the characters to life.

Discussion Questions:

In honor of Black History Month, I am reading books about African Americans. What are you doing to celebrate Black History Month?

Have you read The Hate U Give or On the Come Up by Angie Thomas? If so, what did you think about these books?

What other books have you read that really made you think about people who are different from you?

Create your website with
Get started