“Poet Gregory’s bold first book offers an expansive, revealing memoir about a remarkable life. Born with a cleft lip and palate, Gregory enjoys a mostly happy childhood in Nashville in the 1980s before a deep disruption: her preacher father reveals that he is gay and leaves the family. Lacking support in the face of scandal, and exhibiting signs of mental illness, Gregory’s mother moves her and her two siblings around the country, cutting them off from their father and extended family and subjecting them to extreme poverty and neglect. Although Gregory initially wants to blend in with other people, her self-confidence and bold choices will forever set her apart.
Gregory’s relationships with her family members are central to her story, and she doesn’t shy away from their complexities, addressing flaws and imperfections with sensitivity and nuance. Her mother’s ADHD and paranoid schizophrenia constantly exacerbate the family’s pain and the struggle of scraping by, though Gregory portrays her with a balance of unvarnished honesty and deep compassion and love. She also turns that candor on herself, examining her brief adolescent drug use, her unusual marriage, and her time in therapy. Always infusing these past experiences with incisive present-day commentary, Gregory lays bare the everyday humanity of complex choices—and mistakes.
Gregory’s strong narrative voice—one chapter opens “When I was still on speed, hanging out in the living room with other degenerates on an all-nighter at my dealer’s house, I pulled out a postcard”—is enhanced by strong dialogue and a facility for capturing striking sights, smells, tastes, and sounds of her past, though at times an abundance of detail slows the storytelling. The specificity, though, conveys a strong sense of time and place as Gregory offers fascinating insight into the HIV/AIDs crisis, civil unrest in Los Angeles, and grunge-era teen malaise. Despite the extraordinary and often heartbreaking challenges that Gregory has faced, her sincerity, realism, and determination will inspire readers of all backgrounds.
Takeaway: Readers interested in mental health and coming of age in the late 20th century will appreciate this moving story of resilience and healing.
Great for fans of: Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina, Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle, Tara Westover’s Educated.” – Booklife Reviews by Publishers Weekly.
I hope that by sharing my experiences, you’ll discover your own beautiful resilience. No doubt, there’s a story there too.
Mary E. Gregory