Percival Everett. I Am Not Sidney Poitier. Graywolf, 2009. ISBN 978-1555975272 234 pp. $15.49
The premise is that the narrator’s mother, a sound investor who happens to be friends with Turner after making millions investing in his company, gives her charismatic and Sidney P. lookalike son the name Not Sidney (which of course, causes ALL sorts of problems with his peers (“What’s your name?” “Not Sidney” “Ok, what’s your name, then, if it’s not Sidney?” “Not Sidney!” punch).
Mom passes away, Not Sidney is with vast wealth and becomes a ward of Ted, who sets him up in a house of his own on Ted’s compound and leaves him to his own devices. Not Sidney homeschools until it’s time to head to high school, and is immediately preyed upon by his history teacher, Miss Hancock (ha!) who introduces him to fellatio. The incident result in him leaving school and buying his way into college, determined to make his well-read mother proud of him.
The further adventures of Not Sidney include a road trip where he learns it’s apparently illegal to be black in Atlanta, a boating trip with Ted and wife Jane Fonda, a college class with a certifiable instructor, a budding relationship with a white girl who takes Sidney home for Thanksgiving to meet the family (and make the ex-boyfriend jealous) and embarks on a journey to get a church built, and gets mixed up in a murder.
I am not Sidney Poitier is well written, highly entertaining, extremely cinematic, fairly accessible, with quirky characters, a unique premise and a satisfying if unconventional ending. That said, I’m not feeling like it has a zing to it for me. It lagged in a few spots, the lack of reciprocity for the teacher’s disturbing sexual assault was creepy, and sometimes I felt like the author was trying to hard to be clever. The best thing about this book was the portrayal of media mogul Ted Turner.