I’ve been on a little nonfiction kick and these two memoirs have a lot in common. They’re both by black women in their early 40s who were raised Catholic while living in predominantly white spaces. Both authors were victims of rape (though the circumstances and results were very different) and both use their platforms as a form of activism, so I thought it was fitting I reviewed them together.
Gay’s book is a tough read. She details her life story through the lens of her body, which at 6’3 and over 500 pounds is considered super-obese or as Gay calls it an “unruly body”. Gay intersperses essays of her personal experiences with essays about The Biggest Loser, Ina Garten, and the obesity epidemic. I started this book on audio and unlike her previous nonfiction release, Gay narrates the book herself. Gay is a great reader, but because of the heaviness of the topics, I couldn’t listen to this audiobook for long stretches of time. This isn’t really a book you can devour. and I found it better in physical format. Each essay is only a few pages long so you can read a few and pick it up later. Since the release of the book, Gay announced she had gastric bypass so it will be interesting to see if she does a follow-up.
Actress Gabrielle Union’s book also has some hard truths in it but there is more of a humorous perspective. The memoir is set up as a collection of the life stories Union tells after too many glasses of wine. I really liked this book but it’s fairly raunchy, so warning if that bothers you. Union talks about the dishy celebrity memoir stuff you want; her career, marriages and sex life to more broad issues like colorism in Hollywood, police brutality and her rape at gunpoint as a teenager. There is also a healthy dose of what it was like on the set of 10 Things I Hate About You and Bring it On and how she feels about those movies over 20 years later. I never know how honest memoirs are since they are heavily edited but I respected that she wasn’t afraid to make herself look bad and admit her own PC blindspots and bad moments. That said, the only thing she doesn’t touch that I thought she would is the Birth of A Nation situation.
Union is a great narrator, this memoir works wonderfully on audio because her voice brings these stories to life. I admit, I only really knew Union as the black girl from Bring it On and various black films but this made me see her and her success in a whole new light. I’ve been elbowing Jess with the “Hey, did you know…” for weeks now.
This book is definitely not written for teens, but Union works a lot with teens and I wish they would re-edit it a little and release a teen version because I think this could be a great book for the YA audience. Particularly for her frankness about teenage sexuality and how she teaches her privileged black stepsons about how police and white people may see them.
Also, no, Union does not explain what kind of sorcery her skin care routine requires.
I’m a lifelong reader who started blogging about YA books in 2011 but now I read in just about every genre! I love YA coming of age stories, compelling memoirs and genre bending SFF. You can find me talking all things romance at Romance and Sensibility.