cover image The Skin Between Us: A Memoir of Race, Beauty, and Belonging

The Skin Between Us: A Memoir of Race, Beauty, and Belonging

Kym Ragusa, . . Norton, $23.95 (238pp) ISBN 978-0-393-05890-1

Documentary filmmaker Ragusa, now 40, discusses her "complex heritage"—her mother is African-American, Native American, Chinese and German; her father is Italian-American—in a memoir that's refreshingly intent on creating compelling portraits and contextualizing family history rather than rehashing a personal, emotional journey. While there is talk of Ragusa's coming to terms with "in-between skin" and growing up "biracial" in color-divided 1960s and '70s New York City, this contemporary account of trying to fit in glints with vibrant portrayals of runaway slaves, turn-of-the-century Italian immigrants, interracial flappers, '60s civil rights activists, '70s "black is beautiful" models and '80s suburb seekers. Ragusa writes with a confident, curious narrative voice prone to poetic visual images; readers meet "honey-colored" children, see "blocks of burned-out, boarded-up buildings" and visit neighborhoods with "steam like hot hangover breath hissing from manhole covers." She links the various accounts by a central meditation on how "the stigma of skin color" interacts with ideas of beauty and belonging. The recurring discussion sometimes lacks structure and cohesion, but its modesty ensures that it always comes across as fresh, honest and important. (May)