Friday, April 10, 2015

Nonfiction: The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae

There was no way I could pass up a book with such a title as this one. The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae was a no-brainer as far as books to pick out for this blog. I didn't know much about Issa Rae before picking up this book, but knowing that the book's title comes from her award winning web series of the same was enough fr me. Also, it doesn't hurt that I feel like "awkward black girl" could have been applied to me when I was younger...pfft! Who am I kidding? It could still be applied to me now.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a nonfiction book written by Jo-Issa Rae Diop, an actor, writer, and YouTube personality. From the outset, Rae admits that the reader will have a hard time keeping up with the many locations changes throughout the book, as she and her family moved around a lot, mostly between the east and west coasts, with a few trips to Senegal thrown in for good measure. And while the book is focused heavily on Rae's life growing up as an awkward black girl (ABG), other chapters include one on the many different types of black people, of which the ABG is one; the different types of co-workers; black hair and Rae's struggle with her own; and even a guide on how to eat in public if you aren't the most grateful eater. I have to admit, the advice in this section may prove useful to me as my mother, and even one friend in college (Keysha H. I am looking in your direction), has had to shout "Get your head out your plate!" at me on more occasions than I care to mention. Even when talking about her own personal experiences, Rae does not hold back and even courageously confronts, head on, her parent's marriage and divorce. Rae does not pull punches when talking about what happened, how she felt, how she still feels, and how she reacted. She is also honest about her relationships with guys, the mistakes she has made, and the lessons she learned. And of course, something else that Rae is completely upfront about, is how painfully awkward she can be. Many of the awkward moments even come from her attempt to connect with other black people, whether it be through music, dancing, television, or even fashion. She talks openly about her past need of validation from other black people of her own blackness. Yeah, it's a fascinating thing many people just don't know about, but it's there.

My Verdict: The "awkward black girl" market may seem like a niche one, and maybe it is, but there are more of us than people think. And I think the publication of this book is a kind of testament to that. While the book is often funny, as I mentioned before, it is mostly just honest. In fact, it is the kind of honest that makes me wonder how her parents feel about their lives being laid out like this in their daughter's book. But really, if you're going to write a memoir, or anything nonfiction really, you have to be prepared to tell the truth, and that is what Rae does. And of course, I think that more than just awkward black girls would love and benefit from reading this book. It has been lumped together with Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and earned praise from Kaling herself, as well as Lena Dunham of Girls fame, and Larry Wilmore, the "Senior Black Corespondent" on The Daily Show. I certainly recommend it as a window into a world that many people just don't know about.

Favorite Moment: While the time she quotes Junot Diaz comes in at a close second, I think I'll have to pick her descriptions of the different types of black people. Seriously, it is useful stuff.

Favorite Quote: When talking about "The Nerdy Black": "For the general population, try not to confuse the Nerdy Black with hipsters. Nobody cares about hipsters and they don't even deserve a category." Zing!

Recommended Reading: I think Baratunde Thurston's How to Be Black would be the perfect follow-up to this. Also part autobiographical and incredibly funny, Thurston's book is an instruction manual (of sorts) for anyone out there, black people included, curious to know what it takes to actually be black.

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