i hesitate to give this book 4 stars instead of 5. it certainly is a 5 star for content and social commentary, but there were times when the writing felt a little heavy or slow. and i hesitate to write that, because this is james baldwin, and he is a master. i assume that there were times when i was feeling distracted, or not really in the mood to read something so heavy, not really the fault of the writing but the reader. still it was tough for me, at times, to continue reading, so 4 stars. but - this book changed my life, literally, when i first read it about 11 years ago. why it deserves 5 stars - i've never read another book or author who so honestly talks about race, from the perspective of both people of color and white people. and it's pretty amazing, and intense when he does it. this book is full of challenges about race, and some about sexuality, and for that i want to give it 5 stars. for a young, privileged white girl to learn what i did about race when i first read this, was like a revelation to me at the time, and made me a different person. strong stuff from a little book.