In this coming-of-age novel, Whitehead—using the perpetual mortification of teenage existence and the desperate quest for reinvention—explores racial and class identity, illustrating the complex rhythms of the adult world.
Whitehead proves himself, among many other things, a poet of the American summer and its aspirations ... in Whitehead's hands [the setting], reeking of burning sucrose, is the perfect theatre for every anxiety of puberty: monetary, digestive, racial, sexual and criminal ... this remarkable novel goes far beyond gentle musings on awkward youth ... In this elegiac, spirited prose there are echoes of Melville, one of the first to write about Sag ... Whitehead's language here is relaxed and playful, a tribute to youth. But Ben's take on life is a fond, proud, nervy shout, and a triumph of rueful reason.
Whitehead’s delicious language and sarcastic, clever voice fit this teenager who’s slowly constructing himself ... Still, with the story meandering like a teenager’s attention, the book feels more like a memoir than a traditional plot-driven novel. It’s easy to come away thinking not much happens — Whitehead has said as much — but Sag Harbor mirrors life, which is also plotless ... It’s time for us to hear more post-black stories like [Benji's].
... a charming autobiographical novel that comes honey-glazed with nostalgia ... Whitehead is sharpest on the plight of well-off black kids, his tone wavering between resigned sympathy and impatient mockery ... [Benji's] fragile hope may be the most irresistible quality of this wise, affectionate novel.