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The book is more like two intertwining books than just a single book. It switches between two points of views, Ruth McBride and her son James McBride. In Ruth’s chapters, she chronicles out her life story beginning with her migrating to the United States when she was two years old. At a young age, Ruth’s life is filled with hardship.
Her father did not love her mother, her mother suffered from polio; she was verbally abused at school for being Jewish, and physically abused by her father.
As soon as she could, Ruth began to put her past behind her. She moved to New York, converted to Christianity, and married a black man. The other half of the book is the biography of the author James McBride. James was one of twelve children and because of that his childhood was full of chaos. Yet his mother kept the children under control by instilling the importance of church and school into their minds.
During his teenage years, James started rebelling against his mother by skipping school and taking drugs and alcohol. But before graduating high school, he decides to turn his life around. After doing that, he attended Oberlin College then Columbia University. As an adult, James worked as a journalist for many magazines and newspapers, but he also started uncovering his mother’s past because she had kept it a secret to all her children. By uncovering his mother’s past, James was able to build an even deeper relationship with her.
While reading this book, it was hard to compare it to anything else because of its originality. A story about an old, white lady taking care of twelve black children; there is almost nothing like that! Although the concept of digging into someone’s past and in doing so gaining a deep respect for them comes close to the movie Hugo. Hugo is about an orphan boy who lives in the walls of a Paris railway station. As Hugo repairs clocks and builds machines, he begins uncovering the truth about a grumpy, old toymaker who works at the train station.
Hugo discovers that the toymaker was actually a brilliant filmmaker, but after World War II, people lost interest in his movies and to avoid bankruptcy, the toymaker had to burn all his film into chemicals. The toymaker was haunted by his past and put the past behind him and wanted nothing to do with it, just like Ruth McBride. But just as James gets his mother to face her past, and in doing so helps her comes to terms with her past, so does Hugo with the toymaker.
By showing the toymaker some of his movies that were not destroyed, and getting him to talk about his past, the toymaker comes to terms with his past and remembers the joy of imagination. James gets a similar result from his mother as he gets her to open up about her past and step into a synagogue for another time. Hugo was then able to see the toymaker in a new light and it helped Hugo build a deep respect for the toymaker. The best part about the book and what kept it so engaging, was that it was able to express some very important and universal themes.
One line that stands out is when James says, “The greatest gift that anyone can give anyone else is life. The greatest sin a person can do to another is to take away that life (McBride 229). ” These words emphasize the idea that our life is the most sacred thing we have. James was able to give his mother the gift of life by helping her come to terms with a part of her life that she chose to bury. This teaches us that we must treasure the good and the bad aspects of our life because when we lose our life, we lose the most important thing we have. “God is the color of water. Water doesn’t have a color (McBride 51).
This quote from the book uncovers a central theme and plotline from the book. No matter your race, religion, or gender, God loves all us of and represents every single one us. This is important to know because James is the son of a white lady, but he and his siblings are all black. Because of this James grows up confused about his race and religion, but his mother would always tell him that since God is the color of water, he loves all the people in the world, no matter what color their skin is.
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