[Whitehead] captures the fireflies of teenage summertime in a jar without pretending to have some larger purpose…What's best about Sag Harbor is the utter and sometimes mortifying accuracy of its descriptive details…And given the minefield of social and cultural choices that Benji and his friends must navigate, Sag Harbor has unusually good reason to dwell on minutiae.
The New York Times
Detailing the life of a dorky teenager in a community that's peculiar but oddly familiar, Sag Harbor is a kind of black "Brighton Beach Memoirs," but it's spiced with the anxieties of being African American in a culture determined to dictate what that means…The novel's eight chapters are, in effect, masterful short stories, deceptively desultory as they riff on the essential quests of teenage boys: BB guns, nude beaches, beer and, above all, the elusive secret to fitting in. But plot is the least of Whitehead's concerns here. Charm alone drives most of these chapters, the seductive voice of a narrator as clever as he is self-deprecating, moving from one comic anecdote to the next with infectious delight in his own memories.
The Washington Post
In what Whitehead describes as his "Autobiographical Fourth Novel" (as opposed to the more usual autobiographical first novel), the author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist John Henry Days explores the in-between space of adolescence through one boy's summer in a predominantly black Long Island neighborhood. Benji and Reggie, brothers so closely knit that many mistake them for twins, have been coming out to Sag Harbor for as long as they can remember. For Benji, each three-month stay at Sag is a chance to catch up with friends he doesn't see the rest of the year, and to escape the social awkwardness that comes with a bad afro, reading Fangoria, and being the rare African-American student at an exclusive Manhattan prep school. As he and Reggie develop separate identities and confront new factors like girls, part-time jobs and car-ownership, Benji struggles to adapt to circumstances that could see him joining the ranks of "Those Who Don't Come Out Anymore." Benji's funny and touching story progresses leisurely toward Labor Day, but his reflections on what's gone before provide a roadmap to what comes later, resolving social conflicts that, at least this year, have yet to explode. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Fifteen-year-old Benji has spent every summer since he can remember in Sag Harbor, NY. The rest of the year, he's a black preppie from Manhattan, with a doctor father and a lawyer mother and a younger brother, Reggie. It is 1985, and Reggie gets a job at Burger King, leaving Benji (who would prefer to be called Ben) to hang with his summer friends (the term posse wasn't invented yet), other black prep school refugees. Not a lot happens during those three months. Or does everything happen, all that matters to an insecure, nerdy teen just beginning to recognize the man he might become? Scooping ice cream at Jonni Waffle, riding to the "white beach" with the one guy who's got a car, trying to crash a Lisa Lisa concert at the hip club, and kissing a girl and copping a feel are significant events in a life that encompasses generations of folks who called Sag Harbor home. Wonderful, evocative writing, as always, from Whitehead (Apex Hides the Hurt); male readers especially will relate. Highly recommended. [Prepub Alert, LJ12/08.]
Another surprise from an author who never writes the same novel twice. Though Whitehead has earned considerable critical acclaim for his earlier work-in particular his debut (The Intuitionist, 1999) and its successor (John Henry Days, 2001)-he'll likely reach a wider readership with his warmest novel to date. Funniest as well, though there have been flashes of humor throughout his writing. The author blurs the line between fiction and memoir as he recounts the coming-of-age summer of 15-year-old Benji Cooper in the family's summer retreat of New York's Sag Harbor. "According to the world, we were the definition of paradox: black boys with beach houses," writes Whitehead. Caucasians are only an occasional curiosity within this idyll, and parents are mostly absent as well. Each chapter is pretty much a self-contained entity, corresponding to a rite of passage: getting the first job, negotiating the mysteries of the opposite sex. There's an accident with a BB gun and plenty of episodes of convincing someone older to buy beer, but not much really happens during this particular summer. Yet by the end of it, Benji is well on his way to becoming Ben, and he realizes that he is a different person than when the summer started. He also realizes that this time in his life will eventually live only in memory. There might be some distinctions between Benji and Whitehead, though the novelist also spent his youthful summers in Sag Harbor and was the same age as Benji in 1985, when the novel is set. Yet the first-person narrator has the novelist's eye for detail, craft of character development and analytical instincts for sharp social commentary. Not as thematically ambitious as Whitehead's earlier work,but a whole lot of fun to read.
“Warm and funny, carefully observed, and beautifully written. . . . Whitehead seems to be having the time of his life.” —The Boston Globe
“Sag Harbor is a kind of black ‘Brighton Beach memoirs’. . . . The novel’s eight chapters are, in effect, masterful short stories [that] riff on the essential quests of teenage boys: BB guns, nude beaches, beer and, above all, the elusive secret to fitting in.” —The Washington Post
“Delicious.” —The New York Times Book Review
"Whitehead has tapped the most classic summer-novel activity of all: nostalgia. . . . The pleasure is in the way Whitehead recalls it, in loving and lingering detail.” —Time
“Surges and sings. . . . Stokes our emotions and intellect at once.” —Dallas Morning News
“Weaves a spell that is by turns enchanting, mood-shifting, and side-splitting.” —Elle
“Lyrical and hilarious.” —Philadelphia City Paper
“By acknowledging that adolescence’s indignities are universal, and that the search for self is endless, Sag Harbor brings this truth home.” —Vanity Fair
“Beautifully written.” —Details
“Imagine a younger version of Bill Cosby, only more lyrical and far racier, with added literary and sociocultural references at his disposal and a greater familiarity with what the book terms ‘the insistent gray muck that was pop culture’ as it seeped through the ‘80s.” —Newsday
“Whitehead has a David Foster Wallace-esque knack for punctuating meticulously figurative constructions with deadpan slacker wit.” —The Los Angeles Times
“All of Whitehead's previous books were various degrees of funny, and Sag Harbor is funnier than all three combined.” —The Village Voice
“[J]ust as Benji is in the process of remaking himself, one gets the feeling after reading Sag Harbor that Whitehead is taking his first artistic steps away from what has come to be expected from ‘Colson Whitehead.’ And it's safe to say, we're happy, and very lucky, to have both the who he was and the who he'll become out there, telling us like it is.” —The San Francisco Chronicle
“[A] wise, affectionate novel.” —The Washington Post
“Ebullient, supremely confident.” —The San Diego Union-Tribune
“He can write sentences like nobody’s business, and the deepest satisfaction in this book full of them is his crafty turn of phrase.” —Bloomberg News
“Effortlessly readable. . . . Masterful at re-creating the organized chaos of the teenage mind.” —Cleveland Plain Dealer