I received a free copy of Real American: A Memoir in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
When I opened to the first page of Real American: A Memoir by Julie Lythcott-Haims, I knew I was going to be treated to a compelling and deeply personal story of a brave woman. I knew I was going to think about (and rethink and rethink) race, gender, and class. I knew I would be uncomfortable at times since, as a white person, I benefit from the systems of oppression that act as barriers in the lives of people of color. I knew I would learn something, probably many somethings.
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I had all of these experiences and so much more. It's honestly difficult to wrap up all the ways in which Real American: A Memoir is a book that should be on everyone's to-read list, but I've pulled some of my top reasons. Don't worry; this review isn't going to contain any spoilers. I truly think that everyone should have the chance to read the memoir with fresh eyes. But hopefully, it will show that Real American: A Memoir is a book that all Americans should read. Without giving away any of the book's plot, this review will give you a sense of how the book will make you feel. With an emotional text like Real American: A Memoir, it's all about how the story continues in your heart and in your head after you've finished the last page.
1. The Beautiful Writing
As soon as I started reading Real American: A Memoir, my nerdy English Major heart started fluttering. The writing is truly beautiful. Lythcott-Haims seamlessly weaves humor, heartbreak, and hope together to form a raw, real snapshot of her life and personal history. It blew me away and kept me turning page after page to learn more about this incredible woman.
2. It's Important to Embrace Discomfort
There were moments when it would have been easier for me to set down Real American: A Memoir and stop reading it than to continue reading. Besides the fact that Lythcott-Haims's writing is so compelling, I wanted to keep reading because I think it's important to embrace discomfort. How else will we grow and change?
Many of the stories in Real American: A Memoir act as a reminder that we need to lean into discomfort. Lythcott-Haims writes about how as a multiracial woman, she was constantly put in uncomfortable situations. To grow into the kind of person that Lythcott-Haims shows she is through her writing–brave, compassionate, courageous–we need to accept our personal biases and overcome them. The only way to do this is to go outside our comfort zones.
3. The Historical Anecdotes
Many of Lythcott-Haims's stories are grounded in historical details. Though she has no grand claim to fame like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr or Malcolm X or Rosa Parks, her family played an important role in the Civil Rights Movement. Her father rose to prominence in his field during a time when black men were not expected to be successful. Her parents had an interracial marriage in the early 1960's, right before such marriages actually became legal. Her family has roots in Tulsa, the site of the 1921 Race Massacre.
I think it's important to highlight the unsung heroes in history. We all have the potential to be someone who makes the world a better place, either in a small or big way. Real American: A Memoir reminds us of this in a painful and beautiful way.
4. It's Relevant to Current Events
Unless you've managed to avoid any and all contact with the outside world for over a year, you know that it's a tumultuous time on both a national and global scale. Although most of Real American: A Memoir is, as memoirs are, about the past, every single story that Lythcott-Haims shares are incredibly relevant to what is happening right now in our world.
Racism is, unfortunately, alive and thriving. Xenophobia is, unfortunately, alive and thriving. The question of what a “Real American” is, unfortunately, a contentious one. Lythcott-Haims confronts all of this head-on by diving into international, American, family, and personal history.
5. We All Need to Empathize With One Another
As human beings, it's our job to connect with others and empathize with their personal situations. Personally, I enjoy reading stories written by and about people who are different than I am. By listening to and telling personal stories like Lythcott-Haims does with Real American: A Memoir, we can all learn to step into someone else's shoes and empathize with one another.
Real American: A Memoir is not an easy read. Despite the enthralling storytelling, smart bursts of humor, and important subject matter, the heartbreaking moments cut deep. The impact it had on me is profound, and honestly, I look forward to reading the book again in the future.
This shouldn't come as a surprise at this point, but I highly recommend reading Real American: A Memoir.
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Resources: Real American: A Memoir
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.