Mishna Wolff is white. But her hippie dad ''truly believed he was black'' and raised her as if she were too. As a kid, Wolff tried to please her father and prove she was ''down'' by sporting cornrows; playing on an all-black basketball team; and taking up cappin', the sassy urban dissing that abounds on playgrounds. You can't help but laugh and cringe at her first attempts at insult: At one point, the little white girl barks at one of her dark-skinned classmates, ''Am I being talked to by a burnt chocolate chip cookie?'' Despite earnest efforts, Wolff can't cut it as a black girl. At the behest of her mother, she wins a spot at a private school and samples all the trimmings with her new friends: skiing, summering in France. None of this proves any easier.
All of Wolff's experiences funnel into this buoyant memoir, which is rich in detail but never feels overembellished. Memories about the struggle to fit in can seem like pleas for pity, but Wolff doesn't go there she explains everything as simply a matter of fact, which is endearing. Down certainly has serious thoughts on its mind (Wolff actually grew up quite poor and hungry), but the tone manages to be light and triumphant because of the hilarious child-goggles Wolff wears while spinning her tales. A