Book Review: The Color of Water by James McBride
I first heard about this book on the From the Front Porch podcast a few months ago. Annie & Chris paired The Color of Water with Leon Bridges’ Coming Home album. I have been listening to Leon Bridges on repeat for over a year now, so anything that pairs well with him, sign me up. And luckily two months ago, I snagged a copy of The Color of Water at our library’s book sale. I picked it up because it sounded unlike anything I have read. It is James McBride’s memoir about growing up black with his white mother, Ruth. She was the daughter of an Orthodox Jewish rabbi before marrying a black minister in the 1940s. She then went on to have 8 children with her first husband, Andrew Dennis McBride. James was born just after Dennis died from cancer. After Dennis died, Ruth married another black man, Hunter Jordan, and had another 4 children with him, to make it an "even 12" as McBride writes.
The book alternates between a story from James’ life and then an excerpt from his mother’s life. McBride struggles with his identity for much of his childhood. He and his siblings all look black, and they live in all black neighborhoods, but his mother sticks out everywhere they go, though she does not seem to care, focusing only on her children and their education. Growing up in New York City during the 1960s and 1970s was definitely hard on McBride and his siblings. His older siblings became very involved with the Civil Rights Movement, while he was a little too young and caught up in his own grief of his stepfather’s death to do anything as a teenager.
Quite possibly one of my favorite lines I have ever read is from The Color of Water. When McBride asks his mother whether God likes black or white people better and what color God is, his mother responds, “God is the color of water. Water doesn’t have a color.” That is such a true and beautiful line. I have been trying to read more books by authors of color, and McBride’s story is so compelling because not only is he grappling with being black with a white mother, but also his Christian beliefs juxtaposed with his mother’s former Judaism.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. And cheers to Annie & Chris from the From the Front Porch podcast because it totally pairs well with Leon Bridges. I give it 4 stars.
Let me know if you have any similar recommendations for books written by people of color.