I’m Down is a memoir that tells the story of several years in Mishna Wolff’s childhood living in a black neighborhood in Seattle with her father who thinks he is black. Now, I don’t know if Mishna’s father thought he was actually a black person. He grew up in that neighborhood, but I don’t know if it was a black neighborhood when he grew up or if he just never left as the demographic changed. He certainly did embrace the culture – attending an all-black Baptist church, hanging a picture of black Jesus in the dining room, hosting dominoes games with his friends (all of them black), and dating only black women.
Mishna’s parents divorce shortly after the book begins and her father has custody of Mishna and her sister. While her sister, from an early age, is outgoing and popular with everyone, Mishna is shy and unsure of herself. She doesn’t fit in with the neighborhood kids, to her father’s chagrin, and when she begins attending a mostly-white school for gifted kids, she has a hard time fitting in with the well-to-do kids at her school. Mishna’s mother, by the way, is the one who had her tested and had her attend the school for gifted kids. Mishna’s father seems to resent it, later describing her classmates as “uppity brats” and describing Mishna as “snotty like her mother”.
Mishna wants her father’s approval, but it seems he’s always trying to make her into something she isn’t. After she begins attending the new school, her dad signs her up for the local track team so that she can be “well-rounded”. She interprets this to mean “We need to balance all that uppity white shit out, because you’re embarrassing me.” Hahaha…I found that interpretation to be pretty funny. And at this point in the book, I definitely believed her to be correct. Of course, the team is all black. Later on in the book, Mishna is at a slumber party with her school friends and they decided to try to summon the devil. The mother of the girl who hosted the party mentioned it to Mishna’s dad as if it weren’t a big deal (which it wasn’t), but Mishna’s father and stepmother were livid. Her father’s punishment? He signed her up to play basketball so that she would “learn about discipline”. Of course, the team is all black.
The stepmother, by the way, really doesn’t like Mishna. She makes her life difficult and Mishna’s dad doesn’t take her side or try to offer support in any way. Mishna takes the blame for things she hasn’t done just to keep the peace at home. It actually escalates into quite a stressful situation until Mishna ultimately picks up and moves out to live with her mother. By that point, I was so relieved that she left.
I did enjoy this book and I would recommend it if you’re looking for a quick read with some clever humor and observations. It did, however, leave me with a lot of questions: Why did her father think he was black? Mishna describes her mother as being afraid of her father, but the reason for that isn’t explained. There were others, but those two came back to me again and again as I read the book. I understand that the book is written entirely from Mishna’s point of view and the point isn’t to analyze her or her family; however, those nagging questions ultimately left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied.
Up next, not sure. I’ve read a couple of books since this one, so the one I review remains undetermined. Will it be fact or fiction? Comedy or zombies? Stay tuned…