Reviews

Kirkus Reviews, July 2021

 

A memoir of a relationship between a domestic worker and her employer’s daughter.

 

Sanford, a founding member of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective and co-author and co-editor of multiple editions of Our Bodies, Ourselves, offers a riveting account of her friendship with her family’s housekeeper. Growing up in a well-off WASP family, Sanford experienced all the perks of their world. The story begins with the arrival of a young Black domestic worker named Mary White, who was just 15—barely older than the author—when she started working for the family in 1956. The book chronicles the changing dynamics of their relationship—which became a close friendship—along with Sanford’s own process of moving away from her privileged milieu and later coming out as a lesbian. White was never treated“like one of the family” even though she became an invaluable member of the household—even caring for the author’s mother when she was seriously ill. She worked for Sanford’s family for many years in many capacities, even after finding work as a corrections officer. The author tells of how White managed and covered for severe family problems, including both parents’ alcoholism and Sanford’s father’s abusive behavior. She also describes how White’s work led to a great deal of self-sacrifice, including following Sanford’s parents to Florida when they retired there, and why she did so wasn’t always about money. Over the course of this book, the author reflects on the personal growth and increasing awareness that accompanied her changing relationship with White. Along the way, she effectively highlights the uneasy dance that she undertook as they moved away from an employer-employee dynamic and how she learned to let White do her job when she was on the job (“My resistance to her proffered help assaulted her in ways I would later come to regret”). Overall, it’s an excellent and revealing account of their friendship, although it’s likely to make readers wish that White could have written a parallel memoir telling her own story.

 

A moving account of awareness of privilege and the courage to move beyond it.