When They Tell You To Be Good

Tin House. Oct. 2022. 296p. ISBN 9781953534422. $27.95. MEMOIR
Through a nonlinear recounting of his own childhood memories, travels, and political work, Hurston/Wright Crossover Award winner Shakur tells a much larger story of what it means to be queer and Black, prods at the definition of family, and investigates his experiences in grassroots organizing with fervor. As a Jamaican American immigrant, Shakur grapples with intergenerational trauma brought on by colonialism and patriarchy and examines the profound effects on his family and self. The way he interrogates his experiences at Standing Rock and organizing Black Lives Matter protests serves as both self-reflection and sociopolitical commentary. The memoir also skillfully depicts complex familial dynamics, particularly Shakur’s relationship with his mother, with gut-wrenching transparency. Ultimately, upending family secrets in this memoir allows the author to reckon with his identity, in stylistically stunning and impactful prose.
VERDICT Shakur delivers an evocative, intimate, and also analytical exploration of self and various political landscapes. This beautifully written memoir is an absolute must-read.
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