Coming-of-age memoir

Point of View

The author alternates between his own first person voice and his mother's own words.


Straightforward narrative tone


For the most part, the book takes place in the past tense, as it recounts the past lives of James and Ruth. McBride uses the present tense when he talks about his current life, activities, and beliefs.


James McBride tells the story of Ruth's life, which begins in the 1920s. He places emphasis on the 1930s, 40s and 50s. James's memoir covers the 1960s through the 1990s. It takes place in Suffolk, Virginia; New York City; Louisville, Kentucky; Oberlin, Ohio; and Wilmington, Delaware.


Ruth's relationship with her boyfriend Peter foreshadowed her later kinship with black people, and her marriages to black men. James's early love of music and writing foreshadowed his later adoption of those two enthusiasms in a professional context.

Major Conflict

James's struggle to come to terms with his racial identity and background

Rising Action

Ruth's separation from her parents. Ruth's marriage to Dennis. James's confrontation with race relations in society in the 1960s.


A series of small climaxes in which Ruth and her son James confront issues of racial identity and difference

Falling Action

Ruth's conversion to Christianity; James's search for racial identity