Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Ordinary Hazards: An Audio Book Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Barbara Younger for winning CAVE DADA from last week's blog.

Nikki Grimes writes powerful young adult books in verse. You'll find my reviews of Between the Lines and Words with Wings on previous posts. Now I know why she is able to write such authentic poetry. It comes from the depth of her soul and the pain from her past. 

Note: since this is a review of the audiobook, I did my best to capture quotes from the book. 


Nikki narrates the book and begins with this definition:

Memoir: A work of imperfect memory in which you meticulously capture all that you can recall and use informed imagination to fill in what remains. As she says later in the book, Trauma is a memory hog.

Quickly, the reader learns about Nikki's schizophrenic, alcoholic mother; her musician father who feels incapable of raising children; and a childhood full of instability, fears, and abuse. Her only constant was her older sister, Carol, who she adored.

“I have a Ph.D. in avoidance 
We’re all masters of selective memory 
We’re all allergic to pain."


Home was never a safe place.
Forget the guns. 
I was put in a dresser drawer away from the rats.

As a child she realized her mother had a secret life since she talked to invisible people. "Mommy who are you talking to?” was met with,  "Shhh!" and a finger to her lips. 

After her father left, the family temporarily lived with a relative but her sons shot heroin. They moved out, her mother went to work, and the girls were left in the care of a person who locked them in a closet during the day. Nikki was 3, Carol was 8. 

A demon lived inside of us for years in fear of the dark.

When neighbors reported that her mother neglected them, social services took them away. That began a series of foster homes. Some she remembered; she forgot several. One foster mother whipped her and her sister. She and her sister ran away to their grandmother's house; she refused to take them in. 

Did we do something wrong? Is that why no one wants us? 
Anger and I stood together on the train. 

When she was six, she found an oasis of love and peace with the Buchanan's foster family. Although she didn't talk for several days, the family's welcome broke down her distrust. She went to church, started school, and took dance lessons. But she was terrified of the night's darkness. She discovered Psalm 18:28: "You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light," and realized, 

Grace! Outstrips the dark every time.

Early on, she started pouring out her feelings in notebooks; the blank page was her safety.

The writing thing was some kind of magic. 
But magicians rarely share their secrets.

Although she grew to love the Buchanan family, she yearned for Carol and wrestled with not hearing from her parents.

Why did mom love liquor more than us? 
Why didn’t they love us?

When someone explained that her mother had a nervous breakdown she asks, How can nerves break? She is told that her mother doesn't know what's real and what's not, and Nikki remembered her mother's imaginary friends. 

When she overheard a relative at a picnic say that Mr. and Mrs. B always took in strays, Nikki realized, This beautiful family was only borrowed.

She found a picture of herself in the Buchanan family album when she was nine.  She had settled in and let her guard down. Then her mother called. She was remarried and wanted Nikki to join them. 

I had to go. How could I say no? One mother is all that you get. I wasn’t ready to give up on her yet."

The city scared her, it was difficult always changing schools mid-term. This time, her mother deliberately kept her father away and spent more time in politics and civil rights than with her. But Nikki moved in any way--what choice did she have? She quickly learned that in Brooklyn you have to join a gang for protection. When she is singed with a cigarette butt, her mother doesn't ask about the bandage. Nikki writes,

Why does she avoid dark and painful things? 
Who taught her to pretend? 

There were gangs on every corner, danger her mother refused to see, and the Brooklyn Library became her refuge. 

My life is like musical chairs. 
Every time the music plays, I have to move. 

When her mother started talking to herself again, she feared that “this stuff” was in her. 

God, please don’t let insanity be my inheritance.
Both her father and stepfather were useless. Nikkie took the situation into her hands; she was a kid who had to get her mother hospitalized. 

Every damn episode wore another hole in my soul.

She entered puberty and was alarmed when boys and her stepfather eyed her funny. She hated the changes in her body. Her sister moved in but didn't stay; Nikki didn't realize why Carol left until after “my mother’s monster” raped her. No amount of showers or notebook entries could take her pain away. In the same way that her mother didn't want to hear the truth about the neighborhood gangs, Nikki knew her mother would be no help against her step-father's abuse.

Her pent up anger terrified her. She learned to vocalize and to translate her feelings into words on the page.

I knew writing could take me places. 
But writing was a lonely place. 

Although her mother discounted her writing talent, at thirteen Nikki performed her first reading with Harlem poets. She was nervous, but her father affirmed her talent. He said, 

Explore every art form. You can be whatever you want.

My father fed me books and art by blacks. 
It left me dreaming of what books I might bring into the world.

After going to the Copacabana with her father she thinks, Not all stars in the firmament are white.

Nikki's faith does not break in spite of the many difficulties she faces. At one point she writes,

How can I not believe in God? 
If it weren’t for Him I’d be in prison or the grave.

As I mentioned, Nikki narrates the book herself. The only time her voice wavered was when she read about the car accident in which her father lost his life. He had promised to see her Easter morning and she blamed herself for him driving too late at night to get home in time. She felt powerless in the face of death.

Why did the one parent who knew my heart have to die? 

Here is an audio snippet to give you a flavor of the book.


This is a powerful memoir that I recommend for mature teens as well as for adults. Nikki Grimes has taken the fragments of her life-- "scattered memories"--and pieced them together into an amazing volume of poetry. Teens who have known abuse will find comfort in reading this book and knowing that they are not alone. Teens who have grown up in safety should gain empathy by reading or listening to Ordinary Hazards


I have a code that you can use to download this book for one of you. Leave me a comment by 6 PM on June 13th to enter the giveaway; please make sure to leave your email address if you are new to my blog. Share this on social media or start following my blog and I'll enter your name twice. 


Bettie Boswell said...

Her book is amazing. I read a library copy, but hearing her read it has to be wonderful.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Bettie. Please leave me your email address!

Theresa Milstein said...

I'm currently listening to the audiobook. Much of Grimes' real life story is similar to her middle grade, The Road to Paris. Until this book came out, I didn't know she pulled so much from her own life. It's interesting for me to now know what is true, and what she fictionalized. It's also compelling to hear this information as a novel in verse. Grimes is such a talented writer, and it's so heartbreaking to hear what a hard childhood she led.

Linda Phillips said...

Carol, thanks for reviewing this powerful book during these tumultuous times. What an inspiration Nikki Grimes is!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thank you Linda, Theresa, and Bettie. SInce Theresa has already listened to it, Bettie and LInda you start the list!

Sandra Warren said...

I've not heard of this book before so the story on the audiobook would be new to me. It sounds like a very compelling tale. It's always interesting to hear the background of authors and to see how pieces of their upbringing appear in their work. Nikki Grimes is quite brave to lay it all out in her work.

Carol Baldwin said...

Sandra-- I think you and your granddaughters would appreciate it.

Young Authors Program said...

This was an amazing book! I had no idea this was Nikki's life story. To see where's she's come from to where she is now, is a blessing indeed.

Carol Baldwin said...

Yes, Dorothy. Quite an amazing book and life journey.

Sarah's Book Reflections said...

Wow! Nikki is such a gentle and gracious person, her story should inspire anybody to soldier on through life's hardships. I think you should donate a copy to some deserving teen. Have you seen her Facebook posts on her rose gardens or the beauty in her Southern California neighborhood? Soul soothing journies. Sarah

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Sarah. She is inspirational.

Rosi said...

I loved this book. Nice to see the word being spread. Please let someone else win. I've read it.

Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

I am so grateful for the faith that has brought Nikki through. The blog post was compelling! I do want to hear the audio book! I'll share on FB!

Carolyn Fraiser said...

I love Nikki's books and this one sounds amazing! I can't wait to read it.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks for your comment, Carolyn. Unfortunately, the giveaway was over last night. But yes, please read (or listen to) this book!

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