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When the White House Was Ours

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Loosely based on Porter Shreve’s own childhood, When the White House Was Ours is the atmospheric and captivating story of a family’s struggle to stay together against great odds. It’s 1976, and while the country prepares to celebrate the bicentennial, Daniel Truitt’s family is falling apart. His father, Pete, has been fired from yet another teaching job, and his mother, Va Loosely based on Porter Shreve’s own childhood, When the White House Was Ours is the atmospheric and captivating story of a family’s struggle to stay together against great odds. It’s 1976, and while the country prepares to celebrate the bicentennial, Daniel Truitt’s family is falling apart. His father, Pete, has been fired from yet another teaching job, and his mother, Valerie, is one step away from leaving for good. But when Pete lucks into a crumbling mansion in the nation’s capital, he makes a bold plan to start a school under his own roof where students and teachers will be equals. Replete with the wry humor, human insight, and cultural resonance that characterizes Shreve’s critically acclaimed fiction, When the White House Was Ours will be a joy to anyone whose family has lived through an idealistic time and ended up in an era of compromise.


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Loosely based on Porter Shreve’s own childhood, When the White House Was Ours is the atmospheric and captivating story of a family’s struggle to stay together against great odds. It’s 1976, and while the country prepares to celebrate the bicentennial, Daniel Truitt’s family is falling apart. His father, Pete, has been fired from yet another teaching job, and his mother, Va Loosely based on Porter Shreve’s own childhood, When the White House Was Ours is the atmospheric and captivating story of a family’s struggle to stay together against great odds. It’s 1976, and while the country prepares to celebrate the bicentennial, Daniel Truitt’s family is falling apart. His father, Pete, has been fired from yet another teaching job, and his mother, Valerie, is one step away from leaving for good. But when Pete lucks into a crumbling mansion in the nation’s capital, he makes a bold plan to start a school under his own roof where students and teachers will be equals. Replete with the wry humor, human insight, and cultural resonance that characterizes Shreve’s critically acclaimed fiction, When the White House Was Ours will be a joy to anyone whose family has lived through an idealistic time and ended up in an era of compromise.

30 review for When the White House Was Ours

  1. 5 out of 5

    Carl Adams

    Interesting look at that time period in history and the trials of the dreamer father. so close to success.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

    For anyone either growing up in the 70's or who enjoyed some level of the hippie life, this book is for you! It is loosely based on the experiences of the author, Porter Shreve, whose parents once started an alternative school of their own. The protagonist is a precocious twelve-year-old boy named Daniel. Having lost yet another school administrator's job, Daniel's father moves the whole family to Washington, D.C. to start an alternative school which has always been his dream. They rent a big, wh For anyone either growing up in the 70's or who enjoyed some level of the hippie life, this book is for you! It is loosely based on the experiences of the author, Porter Shreve, whose parents once started an alternative school of their own. The protagonist is a precocious twelve-year-old boy named Daniel. Having lost yet another school administrator's job, Daniel's father moves the whole family to Washington, D.C. to start an alternative school which has always been his dream. They rent a big, white, Victorian house in Washington from a college friend and set out to find students to attend their school. Feeling help is going to be needed, Daniel's mother contacts her brother, Linc, currently living on a commune in Washington, to come and help teach and organize the school. The brother arrives in short order, but with his hippie girlfriend and another questionable friend in tow. Daniel's father, sporting the idealism of the time, believes perseverance will allow him to realize his dream. He dreams of the possibilities for a school which will allow the students to control their education. The motto he wants the students to operate under is, "Act first. Ask permission later." So, Pete Truitt has dreams, but no money and little community support. His wife is at the end of her rope with his inability to hold down a teaching position in education and the resulting upheaval for the family. As a result, the Truitt family's adventures ring as being both sad and humorous. Linc and his hippie friends with their questionable ethics and morals keep you turning the pages to find out what else they are going to find themselves getting into. I enjoyed the various references to music and people of the 70's. Memories came flooding back for me of 1976 and the great hope people had as Jimmy Carter took over the Presidency of the United States. How well I remember hippies, bell bottoms, peace symbols, free love and Jesus freaks! I enjoyed the walk down memory lane and the pieces of nostalgia present in the story. When the White House was Ours is very well-written. I grew to care about the entire Truitt family -- particularly Danie -- and felt for them all as Pete's dream began to be realized and then to crumble. This isn't a heavy read, but instead a nice reminder of a time when people believed anything was possible. Thanks for the great read, Porter Shreve!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ally Armistead

    A charming work--at once quirky and philosophical--When the White House Was Ours is a genuine look at the idealism of the late 1970s: democratic education, living economically and off the land, students as teachers and teachers as students, the tail-end of the Bohemian lifestyle, the hope of a Democratic president in Jimmy Carter. At the same time, the novel is truly a study in the idealism of the Truitt family--sticking together through thick and thin, and through the improbable dream of erecti A charming work--at once quirky and philosophical--When the White House Was Ours is a genuine look at the idealism of the late 1970s: democratic education, living economically and off the land, students as teachers and teachers as students, the tail-end of the Bohemian lifestyle, the hope of a Democratic president in Jimmy Carter. At the same time, the novel is truly a study in the idealism of the Truitt family--sticking together through thick and thin, and through the improbable dream of erecting a democratic school in a difficult neighborhood in downtown DC: one lead by students, shaped by students, made for students. The heart of the story, though, is about the danger in keeping secrets within a family--a profound microcosm of the real-life White House itself, how lies usurp the foundation. Told in first person, and as a flashback story, the novel is full of charming secondary characters, including two Hippies, a lover of Fascism, a brainy little sister, an over-idealistic father, a worrisome mother, and the narrator himself--a thirteen year-old boy in love with history and afraid of his family falling to pieces. I recommend this book to any reader with an interest in the Washington, DC area, the history of how a city takes shape, and the prevailing power of truth and the secrets that undermine it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Christa

    Part memoir and part fiction; Porter Shreve's novel brings together a look into the life of a teenager and his dysfunctional family during the 1976 bicentennial era in Washington D.C. The characters are three-dimensional that reveal their emotions and motivations which propels the reader to read chapter after chapter to see what the characters will do next. The dialogue and setting are descriptive without being bogged down by extra wording. Shreve has a quality about his writing that makes you s Part memoir and part fiction; Porter Shreve's novel brings together a look into the life of a teenager and his dysfunctional family during the 1976 bicentennial era in Washington D.C. The characters are three-dimensional that reveal their emotions and motivations which propels the reader to read chapter after chapter to see what the characters will do next. The dialogue and setting are descriptive without being bogged down by extra wording. Shreve has a quality about his writing that makes you stop and think about the sentence he just wrote and how unique it is to the novel. The best example of this quality is when he is describing the fireworks scene on Election Day: although there are many actions going on at once, he slows down the moment and brings out all the reactions to the sequence. There are two constant threads that run throughout the novel: one is Daniel’s knowledge and trivia about each American President which mirrors his feelings about his father and their relationship, and the other is Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book which reflects the youth/hippie movement and their ideals. However, his novel is not about idealism and nostalgia. It is a realistic reflection about a family in crisis while the Nation was at crisis. Each character has their good and bad qualities which makes the novel a must read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Patsy

    Hmmmm. I liked this book for some of the same reasons I didn't like it. I was 12 in 1976 ... a year younger than the narrator. The year stands out for me, too, for many reasons. The book certainly evokes many of the feelings and events from the period (although a few things didn't ring true, most did). I realize that the point has more to do with optimism tinged with suspect, with a the upheaval and change in times, etc etc etc. But as a child of the 70s, the book spoke to me in a different way. Hmmmm. I liked this book for some of the same reasons I didn't like it. I was 12 in 1976 ... a year younger than the narrator. The year stands out for me, too, for many reasons. The book certainly evokes many of the feelings and events from the period (although a few things didn't ring true, most did). I realize that the point has more to do with optimism tinged with suspect, with a the upheaval and change in times, etc etc etc. But as a child of the 70s, the book spoke to me in a different way. The hardest part was reliving what many of us went through, which was the anxiety shared with us by our parents ... whether they were experiencing money problems, breaking up, or something else. It made me remember how none of us discussed it with each other, and you didn't know it was happening to anyone else until a friend started spending weekends at Dad's or something like that. I don't mind nostalgia. But I'm not terribly nostalgic for 1976. This book had the amazing ability to bring that anxiety right back to me. Hmmm.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Abraham

    I was surprised by how much I liked this book. Despite its title, the book is more about people than politics (although politics plays an important role). As a teacher myself, it was both delicious and painful to watch these characters go about trying to start their own haphazard hippy school. I found myself enjoying the antics of these losers (most of them are kind of losers) and enjoying the anticipation of how it would all end up. One thing I didn't find believable was how little drama they h I was surprised by how much I liked this book. Despite its title, the book is more about people than politics (although politics plays an important role). As a teacher myself, it was both delicious and painful to watch these characters go about trying to start their own haphazard hippy school. I found myself enjoying the antics of these losers (most of them are kind of losers) and enjoying the anticipation of how it would all end up. One thing I didn't find believable was how little drama they had to deal with between students (until the end). I don't think it's possible to put more than 3 teenagers in the same place for any amount of time without drama building between some of them. These teenagers got along too well to be believed, especially in such an unstructured environment. One question I would like to ask the author: "What was the point of having the narrator be so interested in presidential trivia? I didn't see how it contributed to the plot."

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Daniel moves to D.C. under strange circumstances. His father was fired as a school administrator and decides to start his own school. It's the mid-1970s and a hippie school is just what D.C. needs! Daniel is a history buff and loves living in D.C., but his family is just plain strange. Various adults filter through the school as "teachers" whose credentials are fudged to sound impressive. The school fakes projects to help the house (like winterizing the house to save money). This is one of those Daniel moves to D.C. under strange circumstances. His father was fired as a school administrator and decides to start his own school. It's the mid-1970s and a hippie school is just what D.C. needs! Daniel is a history buff and loves living in D.C., but his family is just plain strange. Various adults filter through the school as "teachers" whose credentials are fudged to sound impressive. The school fakes projects to help the house (like winterizing the house to save money). This is one of those quiet books. Things happen, but not very exciting things. I was never excited while reading it, yet I kept reading. I'm still not exactly sure what to thing about this adult novel.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Clint

    Dreadful novel of loose-knit, cash-poor liberal family that moves to D.C. to begin a school in a tumbledown house. It happens to be the same summer when liberal hero (?) Jimmy Carter is nominated and later elected president. As the school opens and struggles, the hippie aunt of the narrator takes up with another man in the house, that man later has an affair with an underage student and marijuana is grown in one of the bedrooms. Meanwhile, the narrator's daughter winds up going to school with Am Dreadful novel of loose-knit, cash-poor liberal family that moves to D.C. to begin a school in a tumbledown house. It happens to be the same summer when liberal hero (?) Jimmy Carter is nominated and later elected president. As the school opens and struggles, the hippie aunt of the narrator takes up with another man in the house, that man later has an affair with an underage student and marijuana is grown in one of the bedrooms. Meanwhile, the narrator's daughter winds up going to school with Amy Carter. Shockingly, the plans all fall apart (as does Carter's presidency in real life). Go figure.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Bina

    It felt very timely to read this book as the country prepares for the inauguration of Barack Obama. As Jimmy Carter is elected president, the issues of the day are the economy and the energy crisis... Sound familiar? Anyway the quirky characters trying to make a better school made me think back to the idealism of the 60's and 70's--and also of the hippies aka refugees of the sixties. Shreve had great characters in Daniel and the enigmatic Quinn. I read htis for my book group and we had great con It felt very timely to read this book as the country prepares for the inauguration of Barack Obama. As Jimmy Carter is elected president, the issues of the day are the economy and the energy crisis... Sound familiar? Anyway the quirky characters trying to make a better school made me think back to the idealism of the 60's and 70's--and also of the hippies aka refugees of the sixties. Shreve had great characters in Daniel and the enigmatic Quinn. I read htis for my book group and we had great conversations about The Farm in TN (which was started by friends on one group member!)

  10. 4 out of 5

    Marjanne

    It was fun to read a book set in D.C., with portions about the bicentennial, around the 4th of July. This story was interesting and a bit unusual. It was both entertaining and serious. The main character was easy to relate to. I was happy that the author kind of wrapped up the story at the end, though I think he could have just let it end too. Anyhow, I would probably read another book by this author.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    I recently discovered Porter Shreve when I read his first novel, "The Obituary Writer" and I now looking forward to reading more of him. This latest book was a trip down memory lane, as it was set in the 70's at the time of the bi-centennial and Jimmy Carter's election to office. The characters were interesting.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Skip

    Great story. And early — stumbling look — at the sort of critical-thinking education we're seeing move into todays classrooms. But you definitely wanted to say, go get a job people.... Really liked all the Presidential trivia. It would be interesting to see what Daniel would dig up about Bush and now, Obama. Also liked the reunion at the end. Takes the story full-circle. So of the

  13. 5 out of 5

    Pam

    Sometimes you want to read a good book that has no violence, no tragedy, no big romance, but that keeps your interest. Porter Shreve's book about a family trying to open and run a school in Washington, D.C. is just that kind of story. A gentle coming of age story, told by a boy, this book recreates the ambiance of the 1980's Washington.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Marisa

    I enjoyed this story of a quirky, idealistic family who started an alternative school in DC in the 70s. The historical context was interesting, and the family's adventures (for lack of a better word) kept me turning the pages and entertained. The most fun part was to imagine the different DC locales they talked about, and how they've changed since that time. Definitely worth a read!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Fun, quick read about quirky family whose father after getting fired decides to open a free thinking school for children with little money and hippie drop outs for faculty in Washington DC during the Carter election.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    This is a tale of a quirky, likable, dysfunctional family trying to live, survive, and run an alternative school in their home (a white house) in Washington, D.C. in 1976. It's funny, frustrating, tender, and enjoyable all the way to the end.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Maureen

    Quirky, charming book about a family in the 1970s that moves to DC to start an alternative, "free-thinking" school. I think I liked it more because of the setting - it was fun to read about DC neighborhoods and think about how local areas have changed over the years.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    An interesting concept: a boy and his family move to D.C. to start a nontraditional school, where students are encouraged to learn what they want to learn, to teach their own classes, and be equal with their teachers. I guess my concern is that I didn't really like any of the characters. Oops.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Nancee

    I love Porter Shreve and this was a worthwhile read if for no other reason than to delight in this author's writing style & startlingly unique descriptive phrasing. However, my favorite book of his remains "The Obituary Writer". I love Porter Shreve and this was a worthwhile read if for no other reason than to delight in this author's writing style & startlingly unique descriptive phrasing. However, my favorite book of his remains "The Obituary Writer".

  20. 5 out of 5

    Maria

    Pleasant but very average coming of age story. I enjoyed reading it but expect to forget it quickly, too. Without the local interest, I'd probably only give it 2 stars, but it is always fun to read about places you know.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Terry Perrel

    An amusing fictionalized memoir based on the few years his erratic family ran a free school in D.C.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Good, enjoyable, but not fantastic look at Washington, DC way back in the Bicentennial year of 1976. A "coming of age novel"?

  23. 4 out of 5

    Alicia

    Next book for one of my bookclubs! Ok, but I got a little bored in the middle.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Liliane

    Wonderful story, funny as well as sad. Takes place in 1976--lots of nostalgia for me.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    Unusual book - vivid characters set in the 70's. Growing up with hippie parents. Well written but won't be of interest to all.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    Really more of a three and a half. I found it enjoyable and reminiscent of the times.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Only 50 pages in, but I'm liking it a lot. He is a good writer; easy to read. I've also read his Obituary Writer which was also good.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    1970s book. Couldn't really get attached to any of the characters, and basically had to make myself finish it. Not "the one".

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lora

    Favorite books of 2008...

  30. 4 out of 5

    Maureen

    Not a bad book but enjoyable for those who know DC now and then.

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