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Turning tough conversations with your kid into Good Talk

caption: Author Mira Jacob's latest book is called Good Talk.
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Author Mira Jacob's latest book is called Good Talk.
Courtesy of the author

“Is it bad to be brown?” Novelist Mira Jacob’s new memoir tackles the questions her son asked that she couldn’t answer, and the moments in her own life that defy neat lines.

When Mira Jacob’s son became obsessed with Michael Jackson at 6, she and her husband bought him all the albums. “That’s in fact not what you do with a mixed-race child,” she says wryly. “You don’t leave him alone in a room with 27 Michael Jackson albums, because he comes out with questions.”

Those questions were all over the map, from “is that really how they walk on the moon?” to “Was Michael Jackson brown or white?”

Mira Jacob, Good Talk

Author Mira Jacob speaks with The Record's Adwoa Gyimah-Brempong about her new graphic memoir, Good Talk.

Jacob is Indian; her husband is Jewish. Her in-laws voted for Donald Trump, and her son is a brown boy growing up in New York City in the age of the Ferguson protests and stop and frisk.

Those questions get complicated fast, and when she tried to write about them – just an essay, she thought – they juxtaposed themselves with scenes from her past. Growing up experiencing colorism from family members played directly into uncomfortable moments in which she herself fell into racial stereotypes.

Jacob extends great grace to her characters, but she’s also unstinting when it comes to the places where things get messy. And her drawing style makes sure you feel that messiness too. The characters are drawn like paper dolls: looking directly at the viewer, never changing expression.

As she told a former editor, “if I’m not crying – if my character doesn’t cry – then you have to hold onto how weird that feels. And I don’t have to do that work for you.”

America is in a weird place right now, and Jacob hoped she might be able to use the book to open a conversation with her husband’s parents. But they weren’t open to discussing it. And, eventually, she realized she hadn’t been writing for them at all. She was writing for us.

“I don’t mean a specific demographic; I don’t mean anything that you can find on a census box. I mean the us that is wildly alive and vibrant in this country that see ourselves nowhere, and are so worthy of seeing ourselves. Are so worthy of finding each other. Those are the people I want to talk to.”

The book is not an advice book. But I did wonder: does she have any advice for parents raising kids of color in this day and age?

The way children think about the world they might want to create is complex and beautiful, she says. “And I tell myself every day that that is as real as anything that is coming out of our current administration. That thing is a real and vibrant way that humans are learning to move through the world. It’s coming.”

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