The awesome folks at WordSong gave me an ARC of this book while I was at ALA Midwinter, and warned me that I would probably cry when I read parts of it. I decided right away not to read it on the plane home, to save it for a time and place where I could immerse myself in it and not worry about my reactions and how anyone else would judge them. It turned out that the right time was sitting on the beach with my toes in the warm sand, surrounded by my family and hearing the surf as a calming background noise. So I dived in and read the book, cover to cover, without coming up for air.
That warm sand and the smell of sunscreen faded away as I was transported into the past and the memories of the incomparable Nikki Grimes. She starts by explaining, "I have a PhD in avoidance, which kept me running from my past for years...now my need for light and truth is greater than my fear of murky memories." With her gift of words, Grimes visits those memories and pulls them into the light. There are her mother's schizophrenia, her father's absence, streets filled with gangs and danger, foster care, abuse, all the things that can go wrong in a young life seem to have visited her at least once. But she used her words then to survive, to put her thoughts and feelings down, and stay true to herself.
I did cry throughout the book; when someone else shares their pain so eloquently, it is impossible to hold back the tears. But there were also tears for the strength and resilience that helped her through those years, and for the wonderful Mrs. Wexler who encouraged her. Grimes has accomplished the goal she shared with her teacher all those years ago, "I want to write books about some of the darkness I've seen...But I also want to write about the light...it's not always easy to get to, but it's there."
Highly recommended for YA readers, especially those who aspire to be writers or who are going through their own darkness and need to have the light reaffirmed. "It is there."