HEAVY, HEAVY, HEAVY… by Kiese Laymon

Heavy: An American Memoir

Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read finished this book a few days ago, but it has taken me a couple of days to fully process what I read.

What can I say… Kiese Laymon is brilliant. Hands down. No questions asked. He has delivered the most riveting, thought provoking, intimate, painful, realistic, gut wrenching, intricately layered, and heavy laden memoir of all time.

At the end of this intimate love/hate letter to his mother, I wanted to know Kiese for myself. I also wanted to give him a hug after this, as if he had just sat down and told me his story in front of me. It was like I was a fly on the wall of his life and I got to see EVERYTHING. I just wanted to hug him and know him and be his friend after reading this book. To be honest, I Googled and Wiki’d him to no end to see what he was doing RIGHT NOW. I would hope that he is doing well. I felt very protective of him after reading this book, as if he entrusted me with his story and I just did not want any more harm to come to him at all.

There are so many points of interest in this book. This book is deeply layered from body image, to addiction, to endangered black male lives in America, to the results of authoritarian parenting, to sexual abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, poverty, and racism. This book is truly for the African American because it is written to us/for us to see ourselves in his shoes, in this world, in this life as Blacks in America. Growing up black, many of us grew up in similar situations; especially with the pressures of being better so the white man can’t kill our insides. To have this intellectual aspect about ourselves because we always have to be 2x better than our white counterparts to even have half the chance of succeeding. Many of us have been robbed of our childhood/innocence as we’ve had to fill shoes we weren’t meant to fill as children.

Kiese lays out what being a black male child to a single mom in Mississippi (south) was all about. Although his mother was a prominent figure in the lives of her students and career, she had so much baggage, emotional mess, and pain that she created/made Kiese into the beautiful mess he ultimately became. Both mother and son dealt with trauma, pain, addiction, lack of, the need to be great/perfect, that it broke them down to rock bottom, each of them shying away from the truth of everything in their relationship.

This memoir is raw, honest, bare, and holds no punches. His prose is perfect. If you don’t get a visceral reaction after reading this, then you must have no pulse. It took me awhile to read this book because I literally read and re-read sections of this book to just get a deeper understanding. This book was TOO HEAVY to just read right through… you literally need to take breaks, re-read sections, jot down quotes, say some prayers, cry, and rock back and forth staring at the wall pondering your life… and how your rearing created the person that you became.

After this book I feel like I need to have a conversation with my mother… no more lies. No more secrets. No more pandering to each other’s feelings because it’s comfortable. Kiese took a stance and said, “no more.” “I wanted to write a lie. You wanted to read a lie. Instead I wrote this.” He was courageously bold and deliberate in his language, and for that it makes this memoir GREAT.

Here are some quotes that stood out to me and are relevant right now:

“Y’all taught me indirectly that unacknowledged scars accumulated in battles often hurt more than battles lost.”

“We didn’t even have to win for white folks to punish us. All we had to do was not lose the way they wanted us to.”

“What white folk demanded of us was never fair, but following their rules was sometimes safer for all the black folk involved and all the black folk coming after us.”

“White folk were scared and scary as all hell, so scared, so scary the words “scared” and “scary” weren’t scared or scary enough to describe them.”

“It don’t matter where you are. They will shoot your black ass out of the sky every chance they get. If you have a heart attack dodging their bullets, they will hide they guns and say you killed yourself.”

“[White folk] were absolute geniuses at inventing new ways for masses of black folk with less to suffer more.”

“Our superpower, I was told since I was a child, was perseverance, the ability to survive no matter how much they took from us. I never understood how surviving was our collective superpower when white folk made sure so many of us didn’t survive. And those of us who did survive practiced bending so much that breaking seemed inevitable.”

I recommend this book to everyone. This book is a solid 5. Best book I’ve read all year! Definitely in my top 10 books of all time now.

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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Please be advised: This book is definitely a slow moving ongoing build up to complex drama in the lives of the characters presented in this book. Do not expect a fast riveting story… although the story is riveting in itself, it is a slow dramatic build to what’s going on in this small progressive town.

I was instantly intrigued to read this book because I’m from Cleveland, and I specifically lived in Shaker Heights as a single adult. So I was instantly transported back to Shaker Heights as I read her book and connected with the landmarks that the author sprinkled throughout the book.

This slow build up of drama is enthralling, highly emotional and deeply engrossing.

The story tells of all of the small fires that are going on in everyone’s lives, and starts with a literal fire at the Richardson house. The book then goes back to fill in the gaps as to why the house fire was started in the first place.

All the characters in this book are all intertwined with each other and make significant impact on the fires in their lives as well.

Mia, a poor/struggling artist has just moved into Shaker Heights with her teenage daughter Pearl. Both Mia and Pearl move into the Richardson’s rental house on Winslow Rd. The Richardson children are all intrigued into the mother and daughter duo and get to know them as best as they can while they are living in the house. However, Pearl befriends the Richardson kids and gets involved in their lives as deeply as possible because this move is supposed to be the last. We watch as Pearl dives head first into school, friends, and life as a budding teen with a love interest.

While she’s becoming invested in this new life here in Shaker, we see how everyone has something going on.

We also see Mr. and Mrs. Richardson and how their perspectives hovers over their kids and the lives of their friends. Mrs. Richardson uses her station in life and career to help a friend who she feels deserves to be a mother. On the other side, we see Mia help a friend, Bebe, attempt to restore a broken life with her child that is found and is within arms reach. This custody battle divides the Shaker Heights community in more ways than one, and puts everyone’s emotions on the line. Does someone deserve to be a mother just because they want to be one? Does someone deserve to be a mother just because biologically they are? But what if they made a mistake and gave the child up? Do they still deserve to get the child back? I was so emotional after the court hearing when I saw the verdict. Looking at it from both sides, each person had valid points. If it were up to me, it would be impossible to have to make a decision like that. To see what Bebe did to resolve the situation was shocking.

By the end I was cheering, rooting, booing and hissing all kinds of characters in this book. The author did a great job in developing the characters because you could literally see them in so many different angles that you could be for or against them at any given moment.

I wasn’t a fan of the slow build up of drama in this book at first, but it did not take away from the flow of the story. I would rate this book a 4 and I would recommend this as a book club read. There are so many things you could talk about in this book with others.

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Black Girls Must Die Exhausted by Jayne Allen

Black Girls Must Die Exhausted: A Novel for Grown Ups

Black Girls Must Die Exhausted: A Novel for Grown Ups by Jayne Allen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“The day I turned thirty, I officially departed my childhood. I was officially grown.”

For so many women, our 30’s (more like ‘the dirty 30’s’) shows us what life is all about. Our 30’s teach us about love, life, friends, careers, our future, and family. You level up at 30. No more games, no more wasted time, no more BS. You are about business… or at least you should be at 30.

Tabitha Walker (nicknamed Tab, Tabby Cat or Two by friends and family) has officially leveled up in life. Hitting life mid-stride as a 33 year old, successful black woman. She has the education, the career, the man, ride-or-die friends, and support from her family. You would think her life was going smoothly. However, somehow someway, her life hits a brick wall. She’s realizing that the future that she has so carefully planned, is somewhat slipping through her fingers at a faster rate than she expected.

As a 30 something year old person, you most often feel that you have TIME. You feel that you have plenty of time to get married, have kids, go on vacation, spend time with family, get that promotion, buy that house, do all the things that you’ve always wanted… I mean, come on! You’re just 30 something! A quick trip to the doctor’s office makes it painfully aware to Tabitha that she doesn’t have as much time as she thought she would. More like, she’s running out of time as fast as the eye could see.

Tabitha’s grandmother (the original Tabitha Walker) told her that “Black Girls Must Die Exhausted.” Reason being is that black women have always had to worry about something or someone else besides themselves for their entire lives.

We worry about our fertility. When should we start a family? Can we even start a family? How can I start a family and maintain my career/goals/ambitions/dreams? Having to choose between getting established in life first or becoming a mom or both?

We worry about getting married. Deciding either to wait on your man to propose? Or broach the subject first without appearing desperate or overly aggressive? Wondering whether to have those hard conversations that could turn him away because he may feel rushed into decisions he’s not ready for? Do I wait for him to get ready for marriage or do I pursue someone else who is ready?

We worry about our careers. How are we perceived in the workplace? How can we get ahead when there are others who are seen more than we are? Always trying to censor ourselves in fear that we are coming across as the “angry black woman” for just speaking up about our needs/wants at work. We worry about maintaining our dignity and blackness without selling ourselves out or short. We worry about that egotistical person who’s at work who’s constantly making it hard for us everyday to be great.

We worry about our friends. The ride-or-die girls who will back us up without a moments notice. The friends we can let our hair down with and let it all out without judgment. Needless to say, we still worry about their perception of us and being judged behind our backs. Due to this type of pressure we sometimes become superficial in our friendships and don’t let the ones who truly care for us know that we are not OK sometimes.

We worry about our family. Wondering whether we sometimes have to choose work over family just to get ahead and make a name for ourselves. We worry about not spending quality time with the ones we love because we feel like we have TIME. We worry about family secrets and whether we should shed light on tough subjects or keep everyone comfortable because of what it may do to the dynamics of the relationships. We worry about what our parents think, and the support we get or don’t get from them on the important things in our lives.

We worry about love. We worry about whether we are investing our lives/love with the right person. Whether the love we’ve given is enough to last a lifetime, and whether forgiveness can right the wrongs of the past. We worry about time wasted and whether to start over with a new person or continue with someone because of the history we’ve had with them.

We worry about staying alive. Due to the racial tension in which we live, black women have to worry about every interaction with law enforcement that we or our family encounters. Police brutality seems to have escalated in the face of social media. Some white people are fearful of their lives by our very existence and will call the police on us just by being black. We worry about the strange environment we find ourselves in due to gentrification and how some white people are weaponizing their fear against us with the use of the police.

We worry about our mental health and self-care. We worry about how we can take care of ourselves and reach out when we get overwhelmed or stressed without looking weak or being embarrassed. There is a much needed space for being able to go to a safe space and talk and gain insight and advise without judgment.

We worry about balance and being able to choose life as it comes to us without having to choose between family or a career, or babies over waiting 10 lifetimes for a man to become ready for marriage, or being able to express yourself on the job without being let go for “not fitting into the organization/culture.”

The list is exhaustive… which is what Granny Tab was telling Tabitha about how black women must die exhausted. We have a lot on our plates… and no one is coming to relieve us of it any time soon. So what must we do in the interim?

“I just learned that life, no matter what kinda bad happens… it’s all about finding some bit of optimism, some kind of hope that the next moment, or even the moment after that… is going to be all that you had originally wished for, and that your good is still on the way.” (Granny Tab)

“Whatever life you can get your hands on, you’ve got to live it right out to the corners.”

Through all of this, Tabitha is navigating through life on the prayers of her grandmother, the hopes and wishes of her mother, the pride of her father, and head nods and finger snaps of her two best friends. As she learns to digest very troubling information, with the help of her friends while trying to strategize on how to mitigate the fallout of all of this, we are allowed to watch from the eyes of Tabitha how this is all going to come together.

Time is of the essence…cause in our 30’s, we don’t have time to mess around. Tabitha is quickly realizing that she needs to make moves that are best for her life because she does not want to ‘die exhausted.’

The author, Jayne Allen, lays it all out for us from fertility to death in this debut novel of the exhaustion that is the life of the black woman.

I would recommend this book to all women, but especially black women who can definitely relate to the exhaustive list of things we must consider just being alive on a daily basis. This book is a solid 4/5.

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With the Fire on High – Elizabeth Acevedo *spoiler alert*

With the Fire on High

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was beautifully written. I was captivated from the minute I picked it up until I put it down.

I was impressed with Ms. Emoni who is a young teenage mom, high school senior, and needing to make real world decisions that will affect the lives of her daughter, grandmother, and herself in very real ways. Unable to be carefree anymore, Emoni realizes that some things aren’t really that important, and some things take priority. Her friends and teachers don’t really understand all too well what Emoni has to decide, but Emoni knows and is trying to come into her own by realizing what she needs to do to make a better life for herself and daughter.

I can’t imagine how hard it was for her, pregnant as a freshman in high school. Shunned no less or looked at as something she was not must have been pretty rough, but Emoni deals with what comes at her in stride. However, she’s not too enthusiastic that she will have a shot at a real chance to make it in life, but the people around her, the friends she has and acquaintances she meets make her realize that she has a gift and she needs to share that gift in order to make it as a bonafide responsible adult.

The saying says, “it takes a village to raise a child” and that statement is true in Emoni’s case. Motherless from birth, her grandmother takes the reigns when her biological father escapes back to Puerto Rico to escape the painful memories of Emoni’s mother. However, there are so many people rooting for Emoni. Her teachers, her mother’s sister, her father, her grandmother, her friends, and finally Malachi. Everyone is encouraging her to use her talents to the best of her ability and not let her life circumstances cause her to not pursue her dreams and goals.

People often cast teenager mothers aside as if they are done for just because they had a baby early in life. However, that could be further from the truth. Many moms take this obstacle as just a bump in the road. Wearing their motherhood as a badge of courage and as a symbol of defying the odds.

In this book, to me, Emoni grows up. She matures. She understands the sacrifices that needs to be taken in order for her to do basic, simple things, that her peers take for granted, such as go to school everyday, work part-time, go to parties, hang out after school, go on class trips, and go to prom. Kids shouldn’t have to worry where the money will be coming from to pay bills, or eat, or whatever… but Emoni is taking it all on her shoulders. I’m glad that Malachi continued to wear her down. I’m grateful that her teacher didn’t give up on her to try a new class to gain more experiences. I’m also happy that Emoni was able to go abroad and explore a new culture. Emoni has everything going for her and I’m pleased that by the end of the book she has really stepped up to be more of a help than a burden. She decides to throw caution to the wind and step into her purpose.

This book was a great read. I would give this book a 4.

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