I received a free copy of Real American: A Memoir in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Bold. Powerful. Authentic. Touching. Moving. Raw. Honest.
These are just a few of the words that come to mind when I think about sharing the book Real American: A Memoir by Julie Lythcott-Haims. In a way, it’s frustrating, because none of these words come close to explaining how affected I was by this intelligent memoir. And yet, it’s also a great thing, because the truth is that nothing I can say in this book review is going to fully encapsulate the importance of this book. And what’s great about that is that I can honestly, genuinely, truthfully say that I encourage you to read the book itself because no review is going to be able to really show you what is so great about it.
So, what is Real American: A Memoir? It’s Julie Lythcott-Haims’ story of growing up as a biracial woman in America. It goes back into her family’s history a bit, shares the details of her childhood, and explores the various changes she went through in understanding, owning and sharing her own identity across varied life stages. It places the story within the historical context, but it is truly just her own story, filled with her own human thoughts and feelings. She speaks to a cultural experience shared by others, one that we should be aware of particularly in this atmosphere of divisive politics, but it doesn’t pretend to speak for anyone else’s experience but her own.
There are other great books about people’s individual experiences with identity, including Black identity and biracial identity. And, of course, we should read those as well. We should be informed about what experiences others around us are having, giving us a broader perspective and some cultural humility that hopefully helps us to better see the individuals in front of us each day. What makes me particularly recommend this book is that it is brand new and very relevant to today, but more than that what I love is the author’s ability to express herself so articulately without seeming to compromise her own voice. Everything from the language choice to the chapter layout speaks to a unique perspective that captured my attention from cover to cover.
Let me share just a snippet of what she writes from early in the book, after noticing that when people ask her, “where are you from?” they mean something more – trying to classify and categorize her because her hair color and skin texture aren’t easy for them to pinpoint. She begins to share some of where she’s from and writes,
“I come from people who broke the rules. Chose to live lives outside the box. Chose hope over hate as the arc of history was forced to bend a bit more toward justice.”
This is just one small bit of a nearly 300 page book filled with brilliant writing. This book is about the racism in America, how it impacts the self-esteem of so many people, especially as they are growing up, and how one woman worked through the years to accept herself exactly as she is. There were times when labels were important for her in defining her self-identity and times when they were limiting, and she is honest about these transitions. She explains the struggles and triumphs of different experiences throughout her life and how they impacted her both in the moment and later in understanding them from a different perspective. I felt lucky, as a reader, to be witness to this.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.