Saturday, April 30, 2022

BOOKS! (Confessions of a Young Adult's Life)

A second book review in April! Hoped I would do it, and here I am doing it! As this month draws to a close, I decided to focus on only one book this time, reviewing it upon personal request from the author. That book is Confessions of a Young Adult's Life by Bri Michelle. Bri is a librarian whom I first got connected with in February thanks to a wonderful woman named Tura, a previous guest on my podcast (Young, Gifted and Abroad) and a librarian friend of Bri's. Bri was seeking guests for her new book-focused podcast called Stories With Bri (the episode I guested on should be released in June), and she asked me to read and review her self-published memoir when I mentioned that I write book reviews during our email correspondence. This is now the second time that an author has directly requested such a thing from me, and just like last time I want to make clear that while Bri did send me a copy of her book on her own dime, I am not being compensated for this review. I'm simply writing it because I feel like doing so (and because she asked). As always, I will keep things as genuine and fair as I can.
Confessions of a Young Adult's Life: A Memoir by Bri Michelle
This memoir is exactly what its title says it is, an array of confessions and memories that have colored Bri's life thus far (or at least up to 2020, when she published it). Over 13 chapters grouped into three parts, events range from her growing up in her minister grandmother's East St. Louis home with extended family, to her nomadic childhood and feelings of abandonment after her parents' divorce—they left Bri and her sister primarily in their grandmother's care, and at one point Bri recalls living in the same church her grandma preached in—to struggling with body image, mental illness, sexual assault, and perfectionism in her student years and beyond, to becoming attached to her undergraduate apartment and finding a new community of friends (plus a few situationships) in college, to eventually earning a master's degree and achieving her dream of working in library sciences on the East Coast. I was fascinated to learn that although she's passionate about her work now, becoming a librarian was not Bri's initial dream growing up. She actually wanted to be a dancer and choreographer, and then dreamt of being a corporate lawyer. But due to family pressure and changing her mind, she had to learn to choose new dreams time and time again, which led to where she is now.
Bri mentions toward the end of chapter 10 that this book is an homage to a blog of the same name. Which made a lot of things suddenly click for me, since the conversational writing style often gave me "blog post" vibes. Like a friendly auntie or a humorous homegirl sitting you down to tell you her business so you can understand where she's coming from, and so you'll absorb the lessons without having to learn them the hard way like she did. I found the wildest, most vulnerable, and most entertaining chapter to be chapter 9 ("Situationships"), where Bri details her involvement with two different no-good boyfriends who both nearly broke her spirit in college. (I'm almost embarrassed to say this chapter amused me the most, because I'd like to believe I'm not a person who loves mess, but it is what it is.) One boyfriend wouldn't commit, then made her his girlfriend, and then ghosted her on Valentine's Day and refused to apologize. The other was her rebound, a "prison bae" in and out of jail who put her entire college career at risk when he stole from her international student roommate and then disappeared. Unsurprisingly, that boyfriend also refused to apologize. These are quite harrowing and humiliating experiences in her life, but she relays them with such humor and self-awareness that I couldn't help but chuckle repeatedly while digesting them. This chapter is genuinely entertaining, and the messiness makes it so!
I drafted most of this review (especially this paragraph), before Bri interviewed me in March, and now that I've spoken to her I know she's not as prudish or rigid as certain passages in COAYAL might've led me to assume. But while in the midst of reading the memoir, I remember wishing that she would show herself more grace regarding her past with watching porn, reading sexually explicit literature, masturbating from a young age, and later adding casual sex to the mix (chapter 8, "Addiction"). She refers to them as "sexual immorality" and "perversion", and the internalized shame about engaging in such activities overshadowed her enjoyment of them at the time, to the point where it caused her to live in secrecy, isolation, and defensiveness until she found a way to stop. It's not for me to argue with her about whether those activities she indulged in secretly for 17 years were truly "addictions" or not—Bri knows what she's been through, and she deserves to feel proud of her recovery from those behaviors if they've had a negative impact on her life. And obviously age-appropriateness is a concern in terms of when she got exposed to those behaviors in the first place. But from the outside looking in (and as a fellow Christian who was raised amidst purity culture like Bri was), in terms of sexual exploration I personally don't think she was doing anything wrong, and I think "self-pleasure" can actually work wonders for a person's body image and sense of self. Her book isn't about me or what I think, though, is it? I'm aware that this is Bri's memoir, and she has a right to her beliefs; I just wish there was more room to appreciate pleasure for pleasure's sake in it. 
One thing Bri and I definitely do agree on however: churches need sex education! I know sex ed in faith-based contexts seems dubious or even dangerous, and it's unlikely that most religious spaces would institute sex ed without leaning heavily on abstinence, homophobia, misinformation, etc. But people are seeking out sexual info everywhere else, and if the church is where certain people are going to spend most of their time anyway, then in an ideal world they would be able to get comprehensive sex ed there too. 
Speaking of church. Even though the back cover describes this book as "a story of how faith can mend a shattered soul", and the preface mentions that Bri's goal is "to equip believers with tools to fight the enemy's devices and open the door for non-believers to give God a try," for some reason I still went into it assuming COAYAL wouldn't be that much of a religious read. And until the last three chapters (comprising "Redemption", part three of the book), it really isn't. Bri touches on her faith here and there, even sharing lists of affirmations and Bible verses that she either put together herself or received from her pastors, but for the most part the book is squarely about her as a person. But then you cross into chapter 11 ("God, Me, and Prayer") and the book shifts gears, which makes more sense once Bri reveals at the end of chapter 12 ("Self-Worth") that in addition to everything else she is, she's also a licensed minister. It's presented as a fun little gotcha of sorts, to demonstrate that a regular, imperfect person who's suffered through traumas and made certain mistakes in their past can still be deeply involved in the body of Christ. So I wasn't bothered by any of it, but the tone switch from candid memoir to sermon was slightly jarring until I got used to it, and I can imagine how a reader who's not in the mood to be preached to might be turned off.
From cover to cover, I appreciate how Bri made me feel like I was reading a tell-all without actually telling all; it's a short book (under 100 pages) and she sets clear boundaries around divulging certain details about her life that are either too sensitive or simply not other people's business, and I totally respect that. Perhaps some extra meat would've been nice (I would've loved to know more about her story). Perhaps an extra once-over would've been nice (check out the multiple revision dates Bri lists at the end of the book, thinking she was finished but then hilariously captioning the last two with "I lied, lol" and "Ooops!"). But this memoir is more than solid as it is. If you enjoy taking in people's life stories, care about Black librarians, were raised by your grandmother, or simply want to support a self-published author who's repping for Black girls from the Midwest, then read Confessions of a Young Adult's Life !
Favorite quotes:
"Edward was the best dope dealer I ever met. What was his product? Selling dreams. That man knew how to create a fiend. He was my pusher, my kryptonite; he wrapped me into him and made me feel like he was all I needed... He was a prophet of false hope" (36-37).
"You are not crazy! You deserve to live free in your mind" (46).
"What made me beautiful were my achievements. I ascribed people's accolades about my achievements as self-worth. I am valuable because I am educated, smart, and focused... I disgusted myself physically, but who cares, I'm the smart one... No one talks about when the music stops and all the goals on the list are finally checked off. We don't discuss when you rapidly accomplish everything on your short-term list and have no idea what's next. When the list was done and the running had ceased, I had nothing else to attribute my self worth to. It was now just me... I no longer felt better than someone else" (59-60).

"Having success was great, but I often felt like a complete failure when I didn't have all the answers. I begin to feel unimportant and unlikeable. I attributed my likeability by others based on how knowledgeable I was. If I knew the answer than people would like me, or most importantly, love me because I was useful to them. One reason being is that I thought I was incapable of being loved outside of me knowing everything. But then, I finally woke up. I realized that I didn't have to know everything and I had to be okay with not knowing... I must be humble in knowing that thought I am unique, I'm not better than my neighbor" (61).

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