“The root of evil isn’t money, it’s not having money. Brokeness blows dark thoughts into my mind like thick black smoke. The worst part is seeing my mom suffer. It weighs on me, clings to me like wet clothes.”
I’m having a hard time writing this review… partly because Buck was a really great book, and partly because it’s hard to talk about books like this without sounding like some self-important douche-y white person.
Well, let me start by saying this is one of the best memoirs I’ve read in a long time. This is the author’s account of growing up in Philadelphia – his mom had mental health issues, his father left, and his other brother was in prison. He got lost in life on the street – drugs, sex, violence, and trying to make enough money to survive. M.K. Asante has a great way with words, and the fact that the book is written in the present tense makes it seem very real, in-the-moment, and almost like a story. It was engrossing, disturbing, beautifully written, and insightful. It made me think a lot of things, which I always appreciate.
For example, early in the book Malo (as M.K. goes by in the book, for the most part) talks about how his father was very into Afrocentricity, and how his older brother was begging for a Luke Skywalker action figure. His father took him to the toy store to get him an action figure, but bought him Lando Calrissian, because he’s the only black Star Wars action figure. Malo’s brother was upset, of course. Now, part of me thought that this was great – too many white parents won’t buy their kids anything but white dolls or action figures, and that annoys the hell out of me. So I thought “Good for his dad!” But at the same time, the whole point is that buying kids dolls of just one race is bad because we should be promoting diversity, so maybe there should be a balance there? Should black parents buy their kids only black dolls, to promote a healthy self-image and pride, or should all parents try to make it a point to buy dolls in a variety of races whenever possible? What’s the better thing to do there? (I’m not actually asking, of course, that’s a lot to ask for a book review, I’m just using this as one of the examples of stuff the book made me think about.)
There were a lot of appalling, heart-breaking, horrible things in M.K.’s story. Things that left my mouth hanging open, and wondering how the hell things came to be like this. A lot of disgusting, racist things that I don’t have any words for, other than to say that they’re revolting and I fervently wish that they didn’t happen. And M.K. tells it all so matter-of-factly.
I liked that he had lyrics from songs sprinkled throughout the pages (usually relating directly to what he’s talking about), and the dorky part of me got excited whenever I recognized one. (My favorite being on page 151, “Long barrel automatics released in short bursts / The length of black life is treated with short worth” from a song called Thieves in the Night by Black Star, which you should listen to if you haven’t heard it.) He talks about books later on, and dumps a lot of good quotes from books, and I love when authors show their love for books in their book. And of course, like I said earlier, his writing is really great and quite beautiful, at times:
“Our game is to see who can pull the most numbers. Girls gloss by. I love them all. Each girl, like her own planet, with her own orbit, moon, sun, rotation. Sometimes they throw me a little rhythm. Gravitational pull.”
Buck was a fantastic read. It was heartfelt, and M.K. is a really talented writer. (He’s probably one of few authors I would actually want to meet and ask questions.) It also made me furious at a lot of things – racism, drugs, crappy schools… And I never really know what to do with that after I finish a book like this. Really, what is there to do? I’ll support any charity seriously dedicated to combating these issues, I can show it when I vote, but reading things like this always make me feel like there should be something more I could be doing, other than just not being a shitty person.
Anyways, read Buck, it’s really good. And if you can’t take my word for it, take Maya Angelou’s – her praise for this book is right on the cover.
Sarah Says: 5 stars