Review Written By: Kayla Berthelette
Kiese is a kind man, even though his life has been anything but kind to him. Kiese witnesses rape, survives intense parental abuse, and endures a life encompased by addiction, lies and intense racism.
This book would’ve been an embarrassment to Kiese’s mother. She spent so much time and effort correcting her son’s slang and erasing as much Black culture as she could out of him. She wanted him to be an excellent example of what an educated young Black man should be, but this is a memoir of his life thus far and the hard truths of what it is like to be Black.
Kiese gets in trouble at school and gets beaten at home. Kiese secretly dates a white girl, and all of his failures are seen as his fault for being with her. Rumours swirl that this white girl is only with him to make her parents mad and because he is seen as “exotic”. He is made fun of by classmates, family, friends, and teachers as well as ridiculed for this interracial relationship. The relationship eventually ends because of Kiese’s unwillingness to be intimate with her. When I learned how apprehensive Kiese was towards intimate relationships, an emotional cord was struck within me.
When most boys his age were dating more than one girl at a time, Kiese was saving intimacy for someone who actually wanted to be with him and vice versa. Additionally, he struggles with very low self esteem due to his body weight and upbringing and eventually develops an eating disorder and addiction to exercise. Furthermore, later in his life Kiese is taken advantage of financially: his mother is hiding a gambling addiction and although he loves her greatly, he must make a difficult decision to either remain true to her teachings or to overcome some of his personal struggles. Lastly, nearly all of his childhood friends have ended up in jail- regardless of the high level of education they’ve achieved.
This book has been the most difficult for me to review so far; I am challenging myself to learn about other cultures. At first I struggled with the dialect and slang of this book and then with the fact that all I know about Black people was learned from television- which is just a portrayal from a white man’s world view. I felt embarrassed that I knew so little about what it is like to face discrimination or institutional racism- what an eye opening book for someone who only has one Black friend! I have so much more compassion, empathy, and understanding of some of the struggles Black people face in their day to day lives from reading this book. I will continue to challenge myself and learn about other cultures, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes me feel because this is helping me become a more educated ally. Place a hold on “Heavy” by Kiese Laymon today!