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Sag Harbor


Sag Harbor Cover

ISBN13: 9780385527651
ISBN10: 0385527659
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. How does each of Benjis comrades (Reggie, NP, Randy, Bobby, Marcus, Clive) contribute to the group? What challenges do they face as friends?

2. Explain the differences between Benjis age group and that of his sister. During these years, why is the disparity between high school and college so acute?

3. Benji comments that “the rock” on the beach near his beach house serves as a racial barrier. White people wont walk much further past it. What similar examples can you think of that exist today or in your own community? How have racial barriers changed in the last 20 years? How are they still the same?

4. The emergence of hip-hop is a strong influence in the lives of Benji and his friends. In what ways does music affect their generation? In what ways has music affected your own life?

5. Benji grapples with his identity throughout the novel. At one point he states:

According to the world we were the definition of a paradox: black boys with beach houses. A paradox to the outside, but it never occurred to us that there was anything strange about it.” (Pg. 57)

How is this community a paradox? How is Benjis identity shaped by the two worlds he inhabits, both during the school year, and then during the summer season?

6. Benji often refers to the handshake, song, and/or dance he will surely conquer by the “end” of the summer. To what degree is he constantly trying to reinvent himself?

7. What do you think are the characteristics of a typical 1980s adolescent? How does Benji fit the stereotype? How is he different?

8. Benji clearly realizes toward the end of the summer that what he loves, is perhaps not the girls he pines after, but his beach home and “what he put into it.” He reflects back on a tender moment with his family and the fond memories of being a child. What is it about our childhoods that evoke such special memories within us? Is there a place from your own past that touched your life as Sag Harbor touched Benji?

9. Throughout the novel there looms a hint of darkness behind the relationship between Benjis father and his family. His father seems to have a violent strain. How does this affect Benji and his family? What is the role of the father in a young mans coming of age?

10. From Catcher in the Rye to Stand By Me, the coming-of-age novel is a perennial in American literature. What do you think is so appealing and universal about this genre?

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Jennmarie68, March 11, 2010 (view all comments by Jennmarie68)
We are introduced to Benji and his family as they make their annual summer long trek out to Sag Harbor. The community of the upper/upper middle class African Americans who want to have their own summer place, just like their white counterparts.

The writing style takes a little to get used to but once I was hooked the writing didn't matter only the story did. At times it seemed as if one tale had little or nothing to do with the next but as you step back and look at the story as a whole everything is there for a reason.

I quickly grew attached to Benji and short of a few incidents he seems to be a really good kid, just trying to find his place between two societies. The white prep-school kids he's with at school and his black Sag Harbor friends that he shares his summers with. We are also taken into the 80's with catch phrases like "Dag" and the music that is so often referred to in this book. And anyone who's been a teenager can relate to the situations that Benji finds himself in.

Overall this is one of the best books I've read recently.
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Lynne Perednia, June 27, 2009 (view all comments by Lynne Perednia)
Growing up can be hard, confusing and, at times, downright dangerous. Those who get through their teen years with their psyches intact often look back at those days through rose-tinted lenses.

Such is the case in Colson Whitehead's semi-autobiographical novel. The summers his family spent being out there, as opposed to life in NYC, are luminously preserved in a series of vignettes that form a loose-limbed narrative in which the sum may be less than its separate parts. But it's a lovely look back all the same.

Whitehead's alter ego is introduced the summer that he and his younger brother quit being twins. Not much is made of this, except that it sets the stage for Ben to experience everything that happens through a singular lens. He is part of a group but can take a step back. He doesn't have to keep track of his little brother any more, although they do fend for themselves a lot during the work week while their parents remain in the city. They're not alone. They, and other teenage boys, find summer jobs, hit the beach, drool after girls and explore the world of increasingly dangerous weaponry. Whitehead doesn't make as much of this as he could, beyond noting that soon enough at least one of his friends will have a real gun.

And that's typical of the entire novel. Perhaps Whitehead worked so hard at making sure his semi-autobiographical novel is actually fiction that he didn't spend much time on things like plot or narrative arc.

But if, instead, SAG HARBOR is viewed as a series of vignettes on what it was like to grow up in a black neighborhood where the TV Cosby family resembled their own homes, then Whitehead's glorious use of language can be enjoyed for its own merits. And, when it comes to looking back at the summer one started to grow up, perhaps it's better to not try to assign an arbitrary plot to everything that happens.
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Product Details

Whitehead, Colson
Doubleday Books
African American teenage boys
General Fiction
Literature-A to Z
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
9.55 x 6.6 x .95 in 1.2 lb

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

Sag Harbor Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$6.95 In Stock
Product details 288 pages Doubleday Books - English 9780385527651 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Does what writing should do; it refreshes our sense of the world."
"Review" by , "Whitehead is making a strong case for a new name of his own: that of the best of the new generation of American novelists."
"Review" by , "Whitehead [is] one of the city's and country's finest young writers."
"Synopsis" by , The warm, funny, and supremely original new novel from one of the most acclaimed writers in America

The year is 1985. Benji Cooper is one of the only black students at an elite prep school in Manhattan. He spends his falls and winters going to roller-disco bar mitzvahs, playing too much Dungeons and Dragons, and trying to catch glimpses of nudity on late-night cable TV. After a tragic mishap on his first day of high school—when Benji reveals his deep enthusiasm for the horror movie magazine Fangoria—his social doom is sealed for the next four years.

But every summer, Benji escapes to the Hamptons, to Sag Harbor, where a small community of African American professionals have built a world of their own. Because their parents come out only on weekends, he and his friends are left to their own devices for three glorious months. And although hes just as confused about this all-black refuge as he is about the white world he negotiates the rest of the year, he thinks that maybe this summer things will be different. If all goes according to plan, that is.

There will be trials and tribulations, of course. There will be complicated new handshakes to fumble through, and state-of-the-art profanity to master. He will be tested by contests big and small, by his misshapen haircut (which seems to have a will of its own), by the New Coke Tragedy of 85, and by his secret Lite FM addiction. But maybe, with a little luck, things will turn out differently this summer.

In this deeply affectionate and fiercely funny coming-of-age novel, Whitehead—using the perpetual mortification of teenage existence and the desperate quest for reinvention—lithely probes the elusive nature of identity, both personal and communal.

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