The complete title of the novel touches on the central theme of the novel -- the relationship between the black man, James McBride, and his white mother, Ruth. The novel is McBride's working out of his identity in a mixed race family. He spent his entire childhood in Harlem with a white mother, one of the only white people around, yet his mother never talked about race. When he asked her about being white she just said she was "very light skinned." Ruth is an amazingly strong woman who originally emigrated to the U.S. from Poland with her Orthodox Jewish parents. To go from that background to being married to a black man and living in Harlem! The reader of this memoir is taken on a remarkable journey through this woman's experiences, but Ruth is a reluctant teller of her own story. It is only very late in life that she realizes the importance of this story for her son James, who struggles with who he is in this world. He eventually becomes a successful writer, and this book is his testament to strength, perseverance, love, faith, family, and everything else he learned from his mother. It is a moving tribute to a remarkable lady.