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Review: Secret Daughter

May 15, 2009


Norma Booth, an aspiring white actress, found herself pregnant with the child of James Cross, a black comedian in the early 1950’s.  When the child, June, was born, Norma thought she’d be able to raise her.  Once she realized the difficulties involved, she left June with Peggy and Paul, a black couple in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  June was told to call them “Aunt Peggy” and “Uncle Paul.”

Norma kept in contact with June and even insisted in having a say in how she was being raised.  When June would visit her mother, she was told to call her aunt as well.  At one time her mother said to her,

You know, if you hadn’t gotten darker as you grew older, you could have stayed with me.  You wouldn’t have to live with Peggy.

June had a pleasant life with Peggy and Paul, but longed to be with her mother, even though her mother gave her mixed messages and made racist comments to her.

After having three children by three different men, Norma married Larry Storch of F-Troop fame.  Larry accepted June and helped Peggy and Paul financially.  When June appeared in a picture of F-Troop‘s cast and family another intricate lie was made up to explain her existence as Larry’s adopted daughter.

As she grew older and became more curious, June discovered that Norma had 3 children and didn’t raise any of them.  Upon further investigation, she discovered that her mother was only following a pattern that had been set by her own mother.

Secret Daughter: A Mixed-Race Daughter and the Mother who Gave her Away by June Cross tells June’s life story.  It’s also a fascinating peek at race relations and attitudes of the 1950’s, when lighter skinned black people would try to “pass” as white.    I found June’s story heartbreaking at times and really wanted to choke her mother because of her insensitivity.  It seemed like all June ever wanted was love and acceptance from her mother.  It was amazing that June could keep track of all the lies that were told to explain her existence.  I wondered how anyone could treat a child, especially their own, with such indifference.  I enjoyed this book and found myself talking about it to anyone who would listen – there’s a lot to discuss in it.

June Cross is a journalist and television producer.  Her film, Secret Daughter, won an Emmy in 1997.  Today, she is an associate professor at Columbia University.

Review copy provided by Author Marketing Experts.

43 Comments leave one →
  1. May 15, 2009 7:04 am

    Sounds like a good book. I, too, wonder how a woman could carry and give birth to a child and then not care about it. I think I’ll look for this one.

  2. May 15, 2009 7:07 am

    I’m glad that you liked it, I really loved reading this book.

    I was so frustrated with June’s mom. It was unbelievable the things that would come out of her mouth and the things that she would do. It’s interesting because her mother had a trouble past and in a lot of ways she wasn’t able to overcome it, not for her children or for herself, but yet having a troubled past had a different effect on her daughter who tried more to forgive and understand and be different.

    I know June says it was for the best that things turned out the way they did but I really wished for the little June that Peggy had been allowed to really raise apart from her mom’s influence. Fascinating story, and a great review.

  3. May 15, 2009 8:09 am

    Sounds like this might make a good book club selection!

  4. May 15, 2009 8:58 am

    wow this book seems to touch on a lot of things from the 1950s and how a mother’s example can be carried into further generations…thanks for this thorough review.

  5. May 15, 2009 10:40 am

    “You know, if you hadn’t gotten darker as you grew older, you could have stayed with me. You wouldn’t have to live with Peggy.”

    What a thing to say to your own daughter! Like it’s her fault!! Augh…sometimes people are so disappointing.

  6. May 15, 2009 10:52 am

    Wow…this sounds like a book that would bring many different emotions to light. Thanks for the great review Kathy.

  7. May 15, 2009 10:57 am

    I must look out for this book. Thanks for the review.

    As an aside:

    In India, even now a girl child is abandoned in some places. It does not matter which social strata. As I teach girls, I find this issue very close to heart.

  8. May 15, 2009 11:09 am

    Sorry for skipping most of your review as I have this book in my TBR. But I did read the last 2 para’s and the quote. Glad to know you liked it. I’ll be starting this soon.

  9. May 15, 2009 11:10 am

    It is a sad truth that some women should never be allowed to be mothers. I’d like to think that with better birth control than in the fifties (birth control pills didn’t come out until the sixties) a situation like Norma’s doesn’t happen as often. Such a sad story. I agree with Tricia – this would make a good book club book. Lots to discuss.

  10. May 15, 2009 11:13 am

    As a mother, it’s so hard to understand treating a child like June’s mother did. This sounds like a book that will make you think, I like those!

  11. May 15, 2009 11:13 am

    Wow…sounds like an amazing book. Thank you for the review. I’m adding it to my wish list!

  12. stacybuckeye permalink
    May 15, 2009 11:33 am

    This sounds touching. It sounds like June’s mother was piece of work!

  13. May 15, 2009 12:17 pm

    i can’t imagine a mother doing this to her child! i recently read a book based on the author’s grandmother who abandoned her two small children and thought it was for the best.

    i’m not a parent myself, but can’t imagine what motivates women like this. i understand adoption, but abandoning?

    i’m happy that the daughter turned out so well and successful!

  14. May 15, 2009 12:46 pm

    That Norma is a real piece of work! Sleeping around with all those men, having children and not raising any of them?? Wonder what would happen to a woman like that in this day and age?

    I always liked Larry Storch so I am glad that he accepted June. I can’t imagine having to live that way.

  15. May 15, 2009 1:01 pm

    What a fascinating story! Thanks for sharing this review.

  16. May 15, 2009 2:18 pm

    I bet I’d like this one. It sounds like a story that’s hard to understand though.

  17. May 15, 2009 2:38 pm

    Thank you for this review! It sounds like a sad but fascinating read.

  18. May 15, 2009 2:45 pm

    This sounds like a really interesting book. Definitely one I would like to read.

  19. May 15, 2009 3:13 pm

    I really want to read this one!

  20. May 15, 2009 5:42 pm

    I’m going to give this one a go!

  21. May 15, 2009 5:59 pm

    This sounds absolutely fascinating and is totally going on the wish list. Thanks for the great review!

  22. May 15, 2009 6:07 pm

    You must try Roald Dahl’s A Collection of Short Stories. They’re fabulous…I wasn’t a fan either before I discovered them (through my book club) but now they’re sitting on my bedside table. I’ve read about half of them. I savour them. Switch Bitch is my favourite so far! Let me know if you give them a whirl!

  23. May 15, 2009 6:53 pm

    This sounds like an excellent book. I love memoirs, and having the race issue added in makes it even more interesting.

  24. May 15, 2009 7:03 pm

    It is funny that I just read a book called Secret Son that I am about to do a review of!

    This book sounds really interesting, thanks for the great review.

    Have a great weekend.

  25. May 15, 2009 7:08 pm

    I read Flygirl this year, so this seems like it would be a great “companion” book to that one.

  26. May 15, 2009 8:37 pm

    This sounds excellent! Great review.

  27. May 15, 2009 11:33 pm

    Sounds like a heavy but interesting story. Thanks for the review!


  28. May 16, 2009 12:27 am

    Sounds like an amazing but sad story. So hard for me to believe that a mother would reject her own child due to skin color. Wow.

  29. May 16, 2009 11:33 am

    OMG. I can’t imagine having a mother like that. I have been interested in this book since I first started reading all the positive reviews about it on the blogs.

  30. May 16, 2009 11:48 am

    I could hardly believe it when I first heard about this. Someone should have choked that woman! This would make a wonderful book group discussion I believe…

  31. May 16, 2009 1:15 pm

    Definitely one for the pile. Thanks for the review.

  32. May 16, 2009 5:10 pm

    That sounds so sad, but it also does sound like a great book for a group to discuss. Thanks for the review!

  33. May 16, 2009 8:07 pm

    I so loved your review and this book sounds like a very interesting read!!

  34. May 16, 2009 9:15 pm

    This sounds fascinating, I’ll have to check it out!

  35. May 17, 2009 11:01 am

    This does sound like a good book. One I’m adding to my wishlist.

  36. May 17, 2009 12:19 pm

    Wow…what a difficult life. this sounds fascinating. Loved your review.

  37. May 17, 2009 8:39 pm

    Wow, sounds pretty incredible!

  38. May 18, 2009 9:28 am

    Sounds like a great read, though unfortunately a memoir about someone’s great difficulties. It’s awesome that June was able to rise above all of it, though, and become such a successful woman. I’ve been reading more bios and memoirs lately — I’ll look for this one. Great review, Kathy!

  39. May 18, 2009 2:19 pm

    It sounds interesting and maybe a bit frustrating(to not be able to slap the mother for her selfish and hurtful attitude). Thanks for the review.

  40. May 18, 2009 4:24 pm

    Great review! This memoir sounds heart-breaking, but it covers a time and behavior from history that is fascinating.

  41. May 19, 2009 12:17 am

    I am happy to see you also thought the book was fascinating. I wanted to talk about the book with anyone who would listen, too! It was just a fabulous book. I passed my copy on to Kelly from The Chic Geek. Her mom stole it from her and read it, lol. She loved it. Now I am interested to read Kelly’s review!

  42. May 27, 2009 11:42 am

    I remember seeing the blurbs for this one and being really interested. Such a sad childhood for that little girl! But sometimes, our parents can only do as well as their parents did. I am really looking forward to reading this one. Thanks for the great review!

  43. June 5, 2009 5:30 pm

    What an amazing story this must be. I had never heard of this book before now.

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