This great book provides the life story of both the author, a black man named James McBride and his mother, a white former-Jew named Ruth.
The story begins with Ruth, who was born in Poland and came to America with her parents. At the age of 20, she ran away from her home and her abusive, adulterous father, renouncing her Jewish heritage in the process. She then meets Dennis, a black man who makes her happy and with whom she has eight children. Together with Dennis, Ruth becomes a devout Christian and the two open a church together.
Later, after Dennis's death from lung cancer, Ruth has a hard time looking after her large family single-handedly. She later remarries and has an additional four children with her second husband.
As one of her sons, James grows up knowing all about what it meant to be part of a big family, and what it meant to have a mother who expects nothing but the best. He also wishes he could have a relationship with his grandparents, but his mother explains that there is no chance of this.
Throughout the book, James deals with a variety of issues while intertwining his own life story with that of his mother. Dennis's death leads him to a period of drug abuse and crime, but thereafter he begins to trust in God and works on his musical skills and writing. Ultimately, James looks back on his childhood as chaotic but certainly interesting.