This was such a stunningly good book. I usually read more squarely in the area of genre fiction. Fantasy, thriller, science fiction. I read books for escapism, so the fact that I loved this one speaks to just how great it is. Because it’s anything but escapism.
Wells writes a memoir of her childhood, growing up in conditions that bring new meaning to the word squalor. She pulls no punches, portraying her family and the people she knew back then for both good and ill. Her father was both a raging alcoholic and someone who really wanted to be a good parent. Her mother was ill-equipped to be a parent, but we also see the way she sacrificed for her children.
My childhood couldn’t have been more different, but I still related so well to what she described, seeing it all vividly in my mind. It’s written in the same way a child would view the world. Simple and straightforward. There are no long asides where the author decides she needs to tell us all what everything means. She doesn’t spend time telling us what she thought of her parents, analyzing how they could have been better, or what she actually liked about them. Instead, the book is one of the best examples of “show don’t tell” that I’ve read in a long time. We don’t need to be told what to think of the people. We’re shown who they are.
When tragedy strikes, it doesn’t receive any particular attention. As a child, the way things are for you is the way things are for everyone. The book is often a tough read, with Wells going through some very rough experiences. (And so naturally, it’s also been one of the most challenged books in high schools. It’s true that there is sexual content in the book, but it’s not gratuitous, and it serves to illustrate just how dire some of these situations can be.)
I don’t think I would have picked the book up if not for being assigned it for the Psychology of Personality class I’m sitting in on this semester. So glad that I did. Highly, highly recommended, even if I’m late to the party. 10/10.