Rabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat by Patricia Williams

UnknownRabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat

by Patricia Williams (with Jeannine Amber)

I did not read as many books in 2017 as I aimed for, but I did read more books than I wrote about here.  Life is so full and busy these days, both reading and blogging have fallen somewhat by the wayside.  I’m hoping to give both a bit more attention in 2018.

The first book I’ve finished in this new year is Rabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat by Patricia Williams.  I’ll be honest and confess that I am completely unfamiliar with Patricia Williams – never heard of her before this book was chosen by my book club – although she is apparently a well-known comedian.  Truth be told, I’m not exactly up on the whole comedian circuit in any case.

In some ways, Rabbit tells a familiar story of a deprived, dysfunctional childhood full of abuse, neglect, and downright shocking circumstances and incidents (there’s a whole subgenre of these memoirs; see The Glass Castle, The Liar’s Club, All Over But the Shoutin’, Running With Scissors, and even Fun Home).  What sets Williams’s story apart, though, is that while most (all?) of the other such memoirs out there are the stories of white people, hers is the story of being black and female growing up in the ‘hood.  And being black and female is a whole other ball of wax.

One of five children of a down-and-out, alcoholic, single mother who spent the first several years of her life living in her grandfather’s “liquor house,” Patricia, dubbed “Rabbit” by one of her mother’s boyfriends, was instructed by her mother in the vocation of pickpocketing the drunks who passed out in the house daily by the time she was eight.  Always without money, love, or guidance, and often without enough to eat or gas, electricity, or hot running water, she was pregnant by age 13 (I have 13-year-old twin daughters, and being faced with the reality that 13-year-old girls in the world get pregnant and have babies elicits a visceral response in me) by a 20-year-old married man, and had two babies by age 15.   With virtually no frame of reference as to how to navigate her life other than the criminals and addicts she had always been surrounded by, she turned to dealing crack to support herself and her children – and was very successful at it.  Over the years, she was shot twice, arrested, and beaten – just to list a few things.

And yet, she tells her story with an immense wise-cracking humor.  This isn’t a book that asks its readers to feel sorry for its subject.  Ms. Williams does not seem to have a victim mentality, despite the horrific things she’s lived through.  She lays it all out in a matter-of-fact way, without portraying herself as saintly, or even sinless, and tells it all with a wit that obviously comes naturally to her.

The fact that she ends up becoming a successful comedian and getting her memoir published tells you that she turns her life around and gets out of the ‘hood, but it’s worth reading how her resilience and unfailing sense of humor get her there.  It’s also an eye-opening look into what it means to grow up black, female, and poor in America.

Endangered by Jean Love Cush

book-mockup1Endangered: A Novel
by Jean Love Cush

I reviewed this book for TLC Book Tours.

tlc-logo-resizedIn this debut novel, Jean Love Cush draws from her experience working as an attorney in the DA’s office in Philadelphia as well as in family law dealing with poverty and domestic abuse issues to paint a picture of gross inequality that very much exists in the real world.  The statistics surrounding the criminalization of black boys, and how it’s driven by poverty and prejudice is shocking.  That the leading cause of death for black males in America is murder, and that black male youths charged with murder are more likely to be tried as adults, severely diminishing their chances of ever being rehabilitated is alarming, to say the least.

Endangered opens with fifteen-year old Malik Williams hanging out with a small group of friends on a Philadelphia street corner.  Suddenly the sound of police sirens approaches, and when the boys realize that their little gathering is the police’s target, they scatter – all but Malik, who has been told since he could remember by his mother that the best way to stay out of trouble is to cooperate.  Before Malik even understands what has happened, he is assaulted by police, handcuffed, thrown in the back of a cruiser, taken to jail, and accused of the murder of another black boy.

Janae became pregnant with Malik when she was only fifteen herself.  Malik’s father has never been in the picture, and Janae has managed to eke out a life for herself and her son, meeting their basic needs but not much more.  A young, single mother who works as a cafeteria cashier, Janae is devoted to her son, and when she is notified that Malik has been arrested, it’s the realization of her worst nightmare.  Every black urban mother is all too aware of the fate of too many black boys in the criminal justice system.  With no money to hire a private attorney to defend her son, Janae resigns herself brokenheartedly to trusting the public defender assigned to Malik to serve his best interests.

Enter Roger Whitford, an experienced and well-respected white attorney.  Whitford has devoted his career to working for human rights issues, and he wants to take on Malik’s case at no charge.  Whitford, well aware of the statistics surrounding black youths in the criminal justice system, decides to use the Endangered Species Act as the foundation to defend Malik, and to confront the prejudices and inequities against black boys head on in order to change the workings of the criminal justice system in its dealings with black youths.

There is also the matter of Malik being innocent of the murder of which he is accused.

Endangered is well-written and engaging, and brings to light an important social issue.  It’s so easy as a white, middle-class American to understand the plight of the oppressed in abstract terms; I felt that Cush’s novel brought some of it into the harsh light of day.

The only thing I didn’t like about the book was the romance angle; Whitford hires a crack attorney to help him with his cause and Malik’s case, and of course he’s very handsome, and of course Janae is beautiful, and of course the two of them fall for each other, and of course it’s a handsome man who will be Janae’s salvation . . . eh.  I felt like that angle was just gratuitous and unnecessary.  Why couldn’t they be average and not hot for each other?  It almost felt like Cush didn’t trust her readers to appreciate the story on its own merits, and that she threw the romance thing in as insurance or something.  Or maybe I’m just cynical.

In any case,  I did appreciate both the writing and the story.  Good book!

You can find out more about this author at jeanlovecush.com.