A Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown

10382547Cupcake Brown’s memoir, A Piece of Cake, is a literary tour de force- not so much because of her writing (as captivating as it was) but because of her unbelievable tale. Cupcake Brown lets down her walls for the first time, untangling all the lies she’s learned to tell throughout her life in order to protect herself, and jumps through a hurdle of debilitating fear to bring us a fiercely raw, wildly suspenseful, no-holds-barred and intimate story of how she came to be the woman, motivational speaker, lawyer and survivor she is today.

Cupcake begins her journey detailing vivid memories of an idyllic life she once lived and what that could have afforded her had the most traumatic event in her life (at the age of 11) not occurred– the sudden passing of her beloved mother and discovering her lifeless body. Instead of seeing a young, vulnerable child fumble through her youth lost without the unconditional love and commitment of a dedicated mother, we see Cupcake Brown go down a dangerous, unpredictable and treacherous path that involved substance abuse of every drug in the book, violence, domestic abuse, gang activities and child prostitution. Her story of survival, in the unforgiving streets of California’s most notorious neighborhoods, is nothing short of a miracle.

What makes Cupcake’s story stand out from most memoirs is her candid and brutally honest voice- only ever telling it like it is- and at times wrought with an embarrassing, self-deprecating clarity. She writes from the perspective that she has a responsibility for her life’s story; that her actions are not only the result of the circumstances that were handed to her but that ultimately her regrettable decisions were hers and hers alone to make (often heavily influenced and driven by substance abuse and the sometimes misdirected anger at the system that she believes failed her).

This is not just a memoir- this is an important coming-of-age tale that needs to be read by every single adolescent (whether you are White, Black, Asian, rich, poor, well-adjusted or awardterribly lost) because not only is this a warning for what can happen to a life interrupted but this story is a message of hope- that it is never ever too late to do what is right, no matter the cost. 

North of Normal by Cea Sunrise Person

North of NormalCea Sunrise Person is abnormal. She is abnormal in all the ways a human being can be (in her upbringing and circumstantially at least) but her eternal and universal longing to fit in is what makes her one of the most relatable people I’ve ever read about (and I’ve read plenty). And so this is the premise of Cea’s extraordinary tale. Her journey begins with unforgettable stories from her wilderness childhood filled with memories of living off the land miles and miles away from concrete civilization, and completely being immersed in, her then normal, the vast natural Canadian landscapes that surrounded her. These memories live alongside painful ones Cea has found courage to relive and write about- memories of innocence lost and overcoming abusive trauma time and time and time again. At the root of her life’s journey is a painful, difficult, frustrating and complex relationship with her mother. It would be hard to imagine any woman, much less a mother, reading this book without feeling a sense of heartbreak and disappointment for Cea and the mother she was handed. But just like Cea, hopefully we all will learn that perspective, acceptance, and forgiveness are at the core of every happy soul.

In retelling her truths, Cea Person normalizes the singular fear we all feel and lets us know, we are not alone.

This book is for everyone- everyone who ever felt like they wanted to fit in; for awardeveryone who ever felt like giving up and everyone who ever felt like they weren’t enough. This book is for every Person.

There is unique strength born from a youth spent longing for something different.

-Cea Person

The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner

This book made me angry. It enraged me and elicited emotions I long buried. Ruth Wariner was born and raised into a polygamous family.  Her mother, the former wife of a church leader who was later murdered by one of his brothers in the fight for power, remarries another church follower.

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Ruth’s engrossing narrative begins here- with a meager life of helping her mother with domestic chores such as cooking, cleaning and raising her growing number of siblings and half-siblings. In her memoir, Ruth recounts the despicable and painful details of the neglect and abuse she suffered at the hands of the very people that she entrusted the most. The depth of Ruth’s familial loyalty, her brave young soul and her ability to forgive are what is truly inspiring but it is also what ends up hurting your heart- page after page. For every former child who has ever felt the enduring failure of a parent, this book will test your spirit of forgiveness and may reignite those long forgotten memories. award

Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris

Paris’ suspenseful debut novel finds an old familiar tale of domestic abuse gone even wronger (if I may). At times this book captured my wavering attention and other times I found myself annoyed by its repetitiveness and its increasingly outrageous premise.

behind-closed-doors

The abuser/husband imprisons his new wife (who once mistakenly fell for his prince charming cloak) and always manages to stay one step ahead of her, however, not in any way that is believable but rather extremely unlikely. There were times when this author could have saved the novel but Paris chose to pave a road that led down to a predictable ending and I was truly glad it ended.

In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park

in-order-to-liveWith North Korea as this books backdrop and a harrowing true story of survival and escaping the unthinkable, this book grabs you by your ear on the very first page. Little has ever been known of this private, contained and systematic country but in this enigmatic memoir, Yeonmi Park, describes in tragic detail the normality of her daily life as she remembers it. Her suffering is only punctuated further by her innocence of what she imagined normal life to be like everywhere else in the world. She talks about simple luxuries we, in North America, take for granted like being allowed to wear a pair of jeans, watching television and the joys of eating a raspberry (something she didn’t even know existed until she escaped her former home).

Under the North Korean dictatorship, Yeonmi and her close-knit family slowly began to realize that staying in North Korea would only lead to negative and possibly detrimental awardoutcomes. Their endless trials in a time when hope waned so thin and all the times that fate had escaped their grasp is what truly makes this a heartbreaking and unbelievable tale to read. Yeonmi’s strong reserve, survival instincts and indomitable spirit makes her the only heroine you want to root for, and you do- long after you finish the book.