Blow’s account of growing up in rural Louisiana, exposed to negligence, sexual molestation, violence, and loss focuses on a child’s strategies of survival first, and then on sexual confusion, social ambition, and discovery of the gifts that led him to his life as a writer for the New York Times.  A major theme in the memoir is his learning to claim his bisexuality after years of secrecy and shame.  That emergent fact about his identity, along with moving to New York after a life in the rural South required an unusual level of self-reflection and hard, costly choices that challenged norms at every level.  His account of learning to assume a leadership role in a college fraternity and deciding to finally leave it behind offers a particularly vivid example of what it takes to resist perpetuating rites of humiliation and conformity designed to curb individuation.     


This memoir is sobering, absorbing, and informative.  Among the many African-American coming-of-age stories now available, this one is distinctive for its compelling representation of a child’s and adolescent’s point of view.  For each stage of development Blow recreates the reasoning by which he made sense of a difficult world, navigated his confusions, and reframed his loyalties.  His mother’s love, never demonstrative but always faithful, is a steady influence he writes about without sentimentality, but with frank gratitude for the rudder it provided in an environment where other adults repeatedly broke trust.  Sexuality, a major theme, is also handled with an intelligent detachment; he writes with clarity and compassion about the challenge of identifying and occupying a social category that was at the time, and in many places still is, an uncomfortable no-man’s-land.  Making his peace with bisexuality becomes a signifier for full-fledged emergence into a thriving adulthood where he can look upon his own complex story with an understanding that becomes a gift to his readers.


Houghton Mifflin

Place Published

New York, Boston



Page Count