cover image THE BOOK OF SARAHS: A Memoir of Race and Identity

THE BOOK OF SARAHS: A Memoir of Race and Identity

Catherine McKinely, Catherine E. McKinley, . . Counterpoint, $24 (320pp) ISBN 978-1-58243-259-5

McKinley grew up a biracial adopted child in a politically progressive family, living in a mostly white community in a working-class Massachusetts town. After discovering that her birth mother is a white Jewish woman and her father African-American and part Native American, McKinley finds that she may even have a sister, possibly a twin, by these same parents. But McKinley's first burst of happiness at finding her birth parents is continually punctured: her mother relates to her mostly through the young daughter of her current relationship and has serious emotional problems. (The title refers to the fact that Sarah was the name her birth mother gave McKinley, as well as McKinley's older sister and her half-sister. So there are three Sarahs: all related, all from the same mother.) McKinley frets that her newfound family will disapprove of her lesbianism. By the end of her journey, she is left with feeling "post-family": "I had been born into a loss. People were lost to me." McKinley wants a clear-cut racial, biological and family identity, but comes to the difficult conclusion that such a thing does not exist for her—or anyone else if they begin looking hard enough. McKinley writes beautifully in this debut memoir, never resorting to sentimentality or easy emotions within this tangled web of emotional and family secrets. (Sept.)

Forecast:McKinley's Afrekete: An Anthology of Black Lesbian Writing was considered a major achievement when it came out in the mid '90s. This book's sales could be bolstered by display with two other black women's recent tarrying with origins: Afi-Odelia E. Scruggs's Claiming Kin: Confronting the History of an African American Family (St. Martin's) and Theresa Cameron's Foster Care Odyssey: A Black Girl's Story (Univ. of Mississippi).