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When I Was White: A Memoir

3.29  ·  Rating details ·  242 ratings  ·  61 reviews
The stunning and provocative coming-of-age memoir about Sarah Valentine's childhood as a white girl in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, and her discovery that her father was a black man.

At the age of 27, Sarah Valentine discovered that she was not, in fact, the white girl she had always believed herself to be. She learned the truth of her paternity: that her father was a black ma/>
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published August 6th 2019 by St. Martin's Press
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Donna Davis
Sarah Valentine was raised to believe that she was white, and that her dark complexion is the product of her Greek ancestors. But whereas she does have Greek ancestry in her DNA, Sarah is also of African descent. This strange but compelling, searingly honest memoir came to me courtesy of Net Galley and St. Martin’s Press; it will be available to the public tomorrow, August 6, 2019.

Valentine is an excellent writer, and she spins us back in time to her childhood, spent in a private school, a Cath
Aug 20, 2019 rated it it was ok
The writing and editing didn’t really bother me. I’m not that smart. It’s just a mediocre book at best. What everyone seems to be dancing around in their reviews is how the hell didn’t you know you were black!?!? When I realized she was 27!!! before she accepted, knew, realized that she was black, total bullshit. I’m thinking that she was a kid or a teenager when this realization took place. EVERYONE but you and your family questioned your ethnicity? I then had to google images of the author for ...more
Taryn Pierson
What a frustrating book. Right off the bat, you should know Valentine doesn't meet or even conclusively identify her biological father. I know life doesn't always wrap up neatly the way fiction does, but to write this memoir without any kind of closure on the question of her biological father's identity seems...questionable? Although now that I've said that, I'm realizing that if I'm this uncomfortable as a disinterested reader, what must it feel like to be Valentine and live with that ambiguity ...more
Sep 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
Review can also be found on my blog here: https://booksonthebookshelf.wordpress...


This novel was a compelling story that was interesting to read about the experiences of young Sarah Valentine as she grew into a woman and discovered her identity. Through all the trials and tribulations, and in the face of adversity, this novel grabs the readers attention as you flip the pages and learn more about the many obstacles and feelings Sarah herself went through on this incredible journey of self-discovery.
Oct 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I appreciated hearing about Valentine's experiences. This is a very engaging read.
Jul 26, 2019 rated it liked it
“When I Was White” is a memoir of a young woman growing up questioning herself, her identity, her family, and her personal experiences related to racial
ambiguity. I always commend authors for telling and sharing their own personal stories, though it may be emotional and hard for them to do, and I especially welcome and appreciate lessons and insight that their stories provide. I cannot relate personally to what the author has experienced, but she was able to fully demonstrate her uncertain
Jul 24, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: netgalley
I am giving this book 3 stars. If it weren't a memoir, it would get 2, but I always like to take into consideration why the book was written and the fact that it just plain takes a whole lot of guts to lay your life out there. For that, you get a star. And wow! Ms. Valentine sure has a life to lay out there. Raised as a 100% white woman, at age 27 (yes, 27) she finds out that she is in fact biracial and that her biological father is black, actual origins unknown, and supposedly a rapist. Which l ...more
I am sure this will be the talked about memoir of the 2019. When I Was White is an incredibly nuanced, perceptive and deeply thought out account of growing up being denied one's identity. At the age of 27 the author has had her lifelong suspicions confirmed: her biological father had been a black man. This fact has remained a well guarded secret in her family. Having grown up in a white family and passing for white all her life until then Valentine now embarks on the process of discovering who s ...more
Aug 22, 2019 rated it it was ok
I did not enjoy this book. A lot of the material the author included did nothing to further the story (an entire chapter on angsty, pseudo-philosophical rankings with a friend in a diner?), and there were multiple disjointed transitions. Additionally, the fact that the author continued to harangue her mother long after it became clear that she wasn’t going to get what she wanted from her got stale very quickly. You cannot berate someone into understanding your perspective, and while I feel for t ...more
Sep 12, 2019 rated it liked it
I really wanted to like this book. I did. I find stories about race and heritage interesting, and also love reading about someone who has an interesting story to tell about their childhood. This book should have been that. But it fell quite short.

Sarah does have a story to tell, but I don't know that it was particularly unique. I know of a few people who were raised (although clearly this is not acceptable) to believe that they had a father who was not in fact their biological father
Sharon G
Aug 27, 2019 rated it liked it
A very selfish young woman without much insight.
Jun 04, 2019 marked it as dnf
DNF because of way too much backstory in the beginning that needed considerable editing. Just couldn't get into this.
Oct 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Library Biography #47

3.5 stars, I rounded up because I disagree with many of the other reviewers.

RANT: Some of the previous reviewers of this book were quite harsh on the author and I found that quite upsetting. Here is a woman writing about how her mother never let her embrace her full identity and people have the nerve to get on Goodreads and comment "I can't believe she didn't know she was black until she was 27!" or "The author is pretty selfish." Seriously people? The author does admit/>
Nov 07, 2019 rated it liked it
This can hardly be called a memoir as recent parts of the author's life is completely obscured. More like published journal entries. Interesting take on racial identity.
Never Without a Book™
Nov 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5 but bumping it up to 4. I’m trying to be sympathetic with the authors mother, but something isn’t right and her story of how Valentine came to be isn’t adding up. And the worst part we never find out if she finds her biological father. I have questions that need to be answered.
Aug 06, 2019 rated it liked it
While this book goes quite in depth into racial inequalities and the effects racism can have on an individual, this book did not hold my attention very well

What I loved about this book:

~ Sarah's story is told with brutal honesty and doesn't hold back. I can't imagine how hard it was for her to put her life out there for judgement and talk about her mental illness. She has a level of bravery very few have.

~ Her toxic upbringing was told without villainizing her Mother. I felt bad fo
Aug 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
When I Was White, by Sarah Valentine, is a provocative memoir of a woman whose life-long suspicions are confirmed when she finds out, at age 27, that she is biracial. The story of how she deals with the emotional upheaval of learning that some of her most basic “truths” were not real, and how she integrates her African-American identity into her being should have been compelling and heart-rendering. It was not. It lacks nuance and context in terms of perspective, compassion, and history. Sarah’s ...more
Jul 12, 2019 rated it it was ok
Started this memoir with high hopes. Sorry. What should be an unforgettable story fell flat, and, for me, caring never kicked in. Not enough to continue, at any rate.

Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.
Apr 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: netgalley-read
Book Review: When I Was White
Author: Sarah Valentine
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: August 6, 2019
Review Date: April 18, 2019

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

From the blurb:
“The stunning and provocative coming-of-age memoir about Sarah Valentine's childhood as a white girl in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, and her discovery that her father was a black man.

At the age of 27, Sarah V
I had a hard time deciding how to rate this book. The author has a fascinating story to tell with important insights into race and identity in America. But this book is in need of a lot of editing. At times the narrative is choppy without enough details to be able to follow the story, but in other places it is overly verbose. I did read an ARC, but they are usually in better shape this close to publication. I'll hold out hope that a good editor goes through it before it is published because it i ...more
Aug 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
In Sarah Valentine’s Memoir she grows up knowing that’s she doesn’t really look like the white family and friends she is surrounded by. Her race is something that is eluded to, even joked about but never really discussed. When she is in her twenties her mother confirms her fears that her dad is not her biological father and she is indeed bi-racial. Her relationship with her mom is strained as she is not quite sure she believes her story of how she was conceived. She struggles with depression and ...more
Aug 20, 2019 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jennifer M.
Aug 20, 2019 rated it liked it
{ partner } Thanks so much to NetGalley, the author, and St. Martin's Press for an advanced copy in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are entirely my own.

I knew that I was interested in this book early on before publication, because I love getting to learn about different perspectives and read about experiences that I wouldn't necessarily have in my lifetime. This memoir definitely fit the bill in that respect. This was a really interesting read, although I will say that it isn't exac
Sep 11, 2019 rated it liked it
I was recommended this book by a friend because my family has a very similar story. My mom is the only person in her family who is mixed race (black/white) while her brothers and mom and dad are all white. It's caused a lot of identity issues in her life and mine because no one will tell us the truth.

Overall, I think the book was okay. I hate to rate someone else's story, but my rating is in regards to the flow and writing of the book. There were some stories shared in her childhood
Jul 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
When Sarah was 27, she learned her father wasn't her father, and that she is biracial.

With that premise, who can resist picking up this memoir? Not me! Sarah and her family were always asked if she was black, if she was mixed, if she was adopted, if she was Hispanic. She didn't look like her little brothers. Her skin was darker and her hair was frizzy and unruly. Plus her mom was always weird about things, like confiscating her Bell Biv Devoe tape. There was certainly no blatant raci
Sep 16, 2019 rated it liked it
This memoir by Sarah Valentine was a difficult book to read. It deals with a female who at age 27 finally realizes her father is not her biological parent and the haunting questions she's ignored all her life are real. It's a true story of growing up in a trusting, supportive and loving family with wonderful family and friends who knew she was not white, but "didn't want to hurt her parents with comments". Yet her mother insisted on raising her as a white child and keeping the secret of her real ...more
Sep 17, 2019 rated it it was ok
When I Was White by Sarah Valentine is a memoir about her childhood growing up in rural Pennsylvania, in an Irish/Italian family as a white girl. This novel explores Sarah’s childhood and how she felt as though she never really fit in. Then in her adult life she learned that her biological father, was not the Irish dad she grew up with, but in fact an African American man she had never known, or heard her mom speak of.

At the age of 27, when she finds out this information Sarah begins to questio
Oct 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Meh. The only reason I am giving this book 3 stars instead of 2 is because it is a memoir and I give the author major credit for having the courage to publish her life in all its honesty.

That said, I can't say I really enjoyed this book. It was well written, yes, but extremely frustrating. I want to ask the author so many questions. For one, how IN THE WORLD did you not know you were part black? Just take a quick look at the back cover on the book and the picture of the author with h
Carol E.
Sep 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: library-books
In this memoir, Valentine describes growing up in her white, suburban family in the Pittsburgh area. It isn't until she is 27 that her mother tells her that the father who raised her is not her biological father and that her biological father was African-American. Valentine knew she had been viewed as "different" while growing up, but race was never discussed in her family. She has never put her "different-ness" into words for herself. It comes as a shock to her, though it explains her pondering ...more
Jennifer Rico
Jun 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is a memoir about a woman, Sarah Valentine, who thought she was white when she was growing up, but later discovered that her father was a black man, making her biracial.

I have so many thoughts about this book that I'm not sure I will be able to get them all down coherently. First of all, it was a great book. I love books that make me think about people of different races. Sometimes it is hard for me to put myself in their thoughts. This one is even better because it is a tr
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Sarah Valentine always wanted to be a writer. She began writing poetry in high school in Western Pennsylvania, where she also discovered Russian literature. She continued writing and translating poetry while her studies in Russian literature took her all over the world, including on a spectacular two-week journey on the Trans-Siberian railroad from Moscow to Beijing.

After obtaining her