"One of the most prominent voices of her generation debuts with an extraordinarily powerful memoir: the story of a childhood defined by the ever looming absence of her incarcerated father and the path we must take to both honor and overcome our origins. For as long as she could remember, Ashley has put her father on a pedestal. Despite having only vague memories of seeing him face-to-face, she believes he's the only person in the entire world who understands her. She thinks she understands him too. He's sensitive like her, an artist, and maybe even just as afraid of the dark. She's certain that one day they'll be reunited again, and she'll finally feel complete. There are just a few problems: he's in prison, and she doesn't know what he did to end up there. Through poverty, puberty, and a fraught relationship with her mother, Ashley returns to her image of her father for hope and encouragement. She doesn't know how to deal with the incessant worries that keep her up at night, or how to handle the changes in her body that draw unwanted attention from men. In her search for unconditional love, Ashley begins dating a boy her mother hates; when the relationship turns sour, he assaults her. Still reeling from the rape, which she keeps secret from her family, Ashley finally finds out why her father is in prison. And that's where the story really begins. Somebody's Daughter steps into the world of growing up a poor Black girl, exploring how isolating and complex such a childhood can be. As Ashley battles her body and her environment, she provides a poignant coming-of-age recollection that speaks to finding the threads between who you are and what you were born into, and the complicated familial love that often binds them. "Ashley Ford's prose is glass-so clear, sharp and smooth that the reader sees, in vivid focus, her complicated childhood, brilliant mind, and golden heart. The gravity and urgency of Somebody's Daughter anchored me to my chair and slowed my heartbeat-like no book has since Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye. Ashley Ford is a writer for the ages, and Somebody's Daughter will be a book of the year." -- Glennon Doyle, author of #1 New York Times bestseller Untamed and founder of Together Rising"--
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Quotes: “The easiest way for a child to lose their seat at the adult table is to speak. Grownups seemed lighter at night, like their feet might hover an inch or two above the ground as soon as the sun went down. The later it got, the higher they flew. As good as I was at being invisible, there was nothing I liked better than being spoken to like an adult.”
“It doesn’t taken long for children to teach themselves not to want what they’ve already learned they won’t have.”
This memoir has been getting a lot of press lately, where much of the focus is on the fact that her father was incarcerated. But... it's really so much more. It's about
This memoir tells
Now on to the less good stuff. This book is not at all the book it is advertised as being. I get that the publisher might be to blame for this, but it still impacted my enjoyment. This is not about growing up with a father in prison or about how the mass-incarceration of Black men dangerously damaged the family structure for many Black Americans, especially those who are economically insecure. That is the book I expected to read based on the description. Ford did grow up with a father in prison and his absence appears to have had a mostly negative impact on her, but we don't learn much about that. Viewed from 10,000 feet one could say that the prison pipeline is what led to a one-income household led by a woman with little education and consequently limited earning potential, and that the stress brought on but that aloneness and financial strain made Ford's mother and grandmother the way they were. Again from a distance, you could say that her father's absence led Ford to look for male approval in unhealthy ways. And you can even argue that the bad men Ford's mother invited into her and her children's lives would have been rejected rather than embraced if non-incarcerated men were not so thin on the ground. You could say all that, but I think its a gross oversimplification and it would require you to assume facts Ford did not put into evidence. I can be imperious at times, but even I am not willing to substitute my assumptions for someone's truth. Ford's father raped two women, he would have and should have been in prison even if the US justice system was not a racist juggernaut in cahoots with the prison industrial complex. Ford could have addressed why she was nearly entirely out of communication with her father for 13 years despite having nothing but good memories of being with him, even on an early prison visit. That would have told me a lot. Ford never addresses her feelings about learning her father was a convicted rapist, though given her life experience there must be a lot of feelings. That discussion would have made such a difference here! Most of this book is about Ford's relationship with her mother and a good deal of the rest about her relationship with her grandmother. There are elements of those relationships which are fascinating and troubling, but they are rarely instructive or more broadly meaningful because Ford does nothing to help the reader know her mother and grandmother other than sharing who those women are in relation to her. Also, Ford doesn't tell us a lot about herself. She makes some terrible decisions, and most of her good decisions seem to be made only with the prodding of concerned and compassionate friends, teachers and mentors. I don't think Ford knows why she only makes bad decisions unless forced to do better. She is young, and some things that happened to her are tragic, but just recounting those things without analyzing the players and why they did what they did is just someone's diary, it is not a memoir. Ford is often sad or scared or anxious for reasons we can guess at, but they aren't educated guesses because Ford doesn't educate us.
There is a lot good here, we get access to the facts, but this is like watching the dailies on a movie shoot. All the stuff that gives us necessary context, character development, and a POV (so the skeleton upon which the storytelling must be placed) is not here.
Her memoir is about finding love, freedom, and finding herself. At times I thought it fell flat and contrite. Although it chronicles Ford’s complicated upbringing in Indiana, living in poverty with an emotionally unstable mother and incarcerated father, she seems to withhold some deeply revealing truths. Your looking into her journey from childhood into adolescence, and your witness to her romantic relationships that goes awry. Ford’s ex assaults her. She suffers in silence, opting to keep the truth from her family. But when Ford’s grandmother reveals the truth about her father, Ford has questions, however these questions from Ford or the reader are never answered. What was the relationship like between her parents before his incarceration? What are the details behind her father's incarceration? What was the perspective from her brother, RC? When did she discover her identity as queer?
Ford’s journey of self discovery is candid, inquisitive, and vulnerable, I listened to the audiobook narrated by the author. This gave me a more dramatic effect and I highly recommend it. Her honesty is commendable, Ford certainly writes well, and her experiences are a testimony to her strength of character and will. but my expectations were that this would be more about her father. I felt the author tells a series of memories without any punch. Perhaps my head wasn’t in the right place after reading Tarana Burke’s memoir, “Unbound.”
This is a great read for a book club.
Ashley’s dad went to prison when she was very
Listening to Ashely read her memoir was heartbreaking. She had no safe space as a child and kept going by imagining that if only her father wasn’t in prison, he would be her safe space and her life would be different. But one day her grandmother tells her the truth about what her father did to end up in prison and Ashley realizes this is probably not the case.
It’s amazing that Ashley persevered and is successful now. She figured out how to get into college and live on her own with almost no help. She’s impressively self-aware now and able to see clearly how the events of her childhood affected her psyche. Her writing is beautiful, even if what she wrote about is distressing. I’m very glad I chose to listen to this audiobook.