This month has been quite busy. I’ve time traveled to Sierra Leone circa 1993 and witnessed the brutal civil war first hand. I’ve had childhood cancer and reconstructed surgery that left me with a scar that could burden a generation. I’ve been homeless and forced to sell crack in order to survive. Luckily, I had talent, enough talent to turn my past into comedic stories that made strangers across America laugh. I stood on stages and demanded the attention from crowds of celebrities, critics, and fans. I’ve starred in blockbuster films, won awards, and walked the red carpets in designer gowns. Yet even after all of this, there was more of me I needed to share with the world, more of me to give, so I penned a memoir that detailed all of the moments in between. Those not so pretty moments, the moments that speak of pain and redemption and of heartbreak and recovery. Those sometimes ugly but always magical moments.
A Long Way Gone By Ishmael Beah
Imagine yourself at the age of 12. What were you doing? What were you dreaming about? What annoyed you? Frightened you…broke you… and made you cry? If you were like most 12-year-olds you were probably free of most of these emotions. I mean sure you got angry when your little brother hid the remote, got to have the last slice of pizza, and went into your room even though you forbid him. These things are normal and typical occurrences when growing up, and if it wasn’t your very own siblings annoying the hell out of you, it was your cousins, friends, and even your parents at some point. But most likely it wasn’t rebels. You didn’t go to school one morning only to come home to your entire neighborhood destroyed, your family missing and no clear guidance as to what to do. You didn’t have to flee your home because a war was coming. You didn’t have to walk miles and miles in search of life, food, and shelter. You didn’t have to barricade yourself under decomposing bodies, debris, and rubbish at the sound of gunfire. You didn’t have to walk alone in the forest after losing the only friends you had, climb trees for safety and fend for yourself against wild animals. You didn’t have to strip naked and prove your innocence to complete strangers and you most certainly weren’t indoctrinated by the military to become a child soldier.
This is the story of Ishmael Beah, a boy soldier, a boy who lost everything but never gave up hope. Ishmael is your typical 12-year-old child. He has a rap group with his friends and is looking forward to performing in a local talent show. His parents are separated and he doesn’t get along with his stepmother. At the moment Ishmael isn’t in school because his father refuses to pay, so he spends his days with friends, visiting his grandmother, his mother and practicing his dance moves. At a moment’s notice, things change and confusion strikes. People are fleeing, word has gotten out that a war has started and the rebels are headed to their village. Fearing the worse, Ishmael and his friends wander from village to village in search of food and shelter but most importantly safety. Eventually, the boys are separated and Ishmael is left on his own to face the unknown. He continues on his journey to salvation when he runs into a different group of boys, some he is familiar with and some not so much. Nevertheless, they form an alliance and he follows them on their journey to a village in Sierra Leone thought to be safe and protected by the military.
“People were terrified of boys our age. Some had heard rumors about young boys being forced by rebels to kill their families and burn their villages. These children now patrolled in special units, killing and maiming civilians. There were those who had been victims of these terrors and carried fresh scars to show for it. So whenever people saw us we reminded them of the massacres, and that struck fear in their hearts again. Some people tried to hurt us to protect themselves, their families and communities. Because of these things, we decided to bypass villages by walking through the nearby bushes. This way we would be safe and avoid causing chaos. This was one of the consequences of the civil war. People stopped trusting each other, and every stranger became an enemy. Even people who knew you became extremely careful about how they related or spoke to you.”
In this quote, Beah is describing the lengths at which he and his companions (first Junior, Talloi, Gibrilla, Kaloki and Khalikoi and later, Kanei, Musa, Alhaji, Jumah, Saidu, and Moriba) had to take to remain safe as they sauntered through villages. In a child-like tone, he stresses the fact that they were just children although some adults didn’t see them as such. Beah quickly learns to rid himself of the emotional attachment he has for his family, friends and the notion that he is just a child. Age is nothing but a number and emotions are a sign of weakness.
Though-out the book Ishmael takes a matter-of-fact tone as he describes the war and the moments leading up to his conscription and the hell he faces after. As the narrator, Beah stays true to that fact that most of this memoir is told through the eyes of a 12-year-old child.
This is a story that will stay with me for years to come. The moment I finished I became stalker-like, obsessed with Ishmael Beah. I wanted to know more about this brave young man (although an adult now) and what he was currently up to. I binge watched his interviews and formed a new respect for the man.
WHAT I WAS FEELINGS
I could not put this book down. I finished in 2 days. I don’t typically read war stories, they are not my thing, and just as Beah states in the opening, my only view to war was through movies. My palms were sweaty, knees weak, arms were heavy…. Seriously, I was all in, every chapter, every paragraph, every time they made it to a village, every time they were captured, every time Ishmael was alone. I felt so bad for this little boy and all the boy soldiers. As a mother, I could never imagine losing my child during so much madness with no real indication that I’d ever see him again. Not to mention some of the families literally had to leave their kids behind. Beah told of situations where people just up and fled, calling out to their children in the distance but never stopping to turn and look for them. As Beah and his friends hid behind bushes he described seeing a mother whose bleeding child lay dying in her arms and a man whose entire family was murdered right in front of him. It made me wonder what I would have done differently and I honestly have no answers. It is a thought I’d rather not ponder on.
Yes. Please read this book!!!
Children are recruited into the military and that’s no secret but it is rare to have these stories recounted by the very child who lived it and survived it. This was/is a very important book.
The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish
“The writing style and grammar is just all wrong”
“Too much vulgarity”
“Gross, the sexual details are unnecessary”
These are just some of the comments I came across while I was in the process of purchasing this book. My only thought was these people clearly are not familiar with Ms. Haddish. Usually, I don’t read the comments as they can sway my decision making at times, but I knew I was going to buy this book regardless of the naysayers. I knew I wanted to read it the moment I heard of its release. I am very familiar with Ms. Haddish and I find her hilariously refreshing. She is brutally honest and true to herself. To some, this is “too much” as this was made clear to me while reading what the critics had to say, but for me, I love it. The writing style stays true to Ms. Haddish’s voice, a voice that is vulgar, over the top animated, but truly funny and calming. Her storytelling may seem repetitive but she just wants you to feel her point. I would suggest that if you are unfamiliar with Haddish, you watch a few of her interviews and some of her stand-up before you commit to reading this book.
WHAT I WAS FEELING
A mixture of emotions
I can relate to Haddish’s upbringing, we actually share a lot of similarities. They include growing up in foster care, having to raise our siblings, and having a mother with a mental health illness. I may have a biased opinion but I found this book inspirational, hella funny and thought-provoking. I am rooting for the continued success of Tiffany Haddish.
YES, but first familiarize yourself with the Queen, Tiffany Haddish… you know so that there are no surprises.
Rabbit the Autobiography of Ms. Pat
I remember the first time I saw Ms. Pat, it was during her season of the Last Comic Standing. He comedy was raw and honest and I remember wanting to hear more. Ms. Pat didn’t win that season but that didn’t stop her grind. Much of Ms. Pat’s attitude can be attributed to her childhood. She became a mother of 2 at the age of 13; she was abused, neglected and left to support herself. Her lifestyle lead to drugs and prison but Ms. Pat didn’t let any of this spoil her emotionally. Like most poverty-stricken and underprivileged minorities, Ms. Pat turned to laughter as a coping mechanism. She turned her life around and this is her story.
OVERALL!!! She is hilarious. Don’t read this book in public or else you’ll be the crazy person laughing uncontrollably and causing unwelcomed stares.
WHAT I WAS FEELING
Again, I could relate to this story but I won’t bore you with details. Ms. Pat has a way of making the craziest and most heart-breaking situations light-hearted and outrageously funny. At times I had to ask myself should I be laughing at this?
I say yes READ THIS BOOK and have a good laugh at someone else’s pain (and not in a mean way, she wants you to laugh, trust me) for a change.
Around the Way Girl by Tarija P Henson
I like this celebrity memoir the most as it strays from the typical autobiography. Henson doesn’t go on a long unnecessary trip down memory lane. She doesn’t detail every milestone of her life, and she doesn’t attempt the overly done “hood to riches” synopsis that most black celebrity memoirs rely on. Instead, Henson speaks about her acting career, the let downs, and failures, along with the triumphs and accomplishments. Henson breaks down her characters, such as Queenie, Cookie and even Yvette (her first major role at 30 years old). She tells us what she was feeling, the prejudices she faced and how certain producers and entertainers made her feel. Henson even shares her toxic relationship with her son’s father and how his death impacted her life. This is truly a very well-written memoir with an equal dose of humor, truth, and inspiration.
OVERALL!!! Hollywood is Hollyweird but kudos to the actors that make it in this madness.
WHAT I WAS FEELING
It is one thing to wonder how someone’s life may continue after reading their memoir. You want to wish the best and hope they achieve their goals and overcome any strife they were dealing with. But Taraji P. Henson is already living in these goals and seemingly at peace with any hardship she faced. She is literally doing the damn thing. I can only wish her longevity, support her future endeavors, and watch as she shines on from the sidelines.
Oh yes, whether you are a fan or not, you’ll be enlightened and enthralled by the mysterious world of holly weird actors and the foolishness they face on their way to stardom. But most importantly, you’ll laugh and get a greater insight into this beautiful dynamic actress.
Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy
Grealy has a gift for story-telling. Somehow she convinced me that she was writing directly to ME. I willingly went on a journey through her childhood; I was there in the hospital during her surgeries. I was in school with her and faced every obstacle she faced as if they were directly happening to me. This is how amazing of a writer Grealy is, I experienced every emotion she described, her diagnosis, treatment, and recovery and even the scars that she was left with physically and emotionally.
WHAT I WAS FEELING
This is the story of a child . . . with cancer. And although Grealy does her best at making it less about the gruesome details of reconstructive surgeries, treatment and bullying and more about discovering your true self, I can’t help but notice how the author rushes through details and skips over important points. There was more I wanted to know but nonetheless, there are enough details for those who aren’t as newsy as I am.
This is a powerful book but not for the faint of heart and I would not recommend to anyone living with cancer and looking for a pick me up, directly or indirectly. I would say that if you work with or beside people with deformities this would be a wonderful book to read.
Welp, that is all for now. I tried to make this short-winded but obviously, if you’ve gotten to this point…you know I failed.
Happy Reading and Happy New Year!!