Reading Nonfiction: Heavy by Kiese Laymon

In an effort to make myself more accountable this year, I’m going to be sharing some reviews and stories to my blog. This includes a category dedicated to nonfiction. As I might have written in the past, nonfiction is just one of those things that slips below my radar every year. I make an effort to plan out nonfiction reads, but I always pass it over for something else.

My first blog post for this new series will be for a book I read last month. Do you recall me reading Heavy by Kiese Laymon? Well, I wrote a review for it on Goodreads and I’m here to share it with you now. Mind you, this is my first time reviewing nonfiction, so I wasn’t fully sure what to include. I’ll probably improve upon this in the future.


By the first page, I already loved this book for its honesty. The first page was a warning at sorts; that you’re not going to get the uplifting heartfelt attempt at overcoming the throes of reality. Instead you get the very real and very “heavy” life Kiese Laymon lives.

The book is written like an open letter to his mother, a letter I know I would never write to my own mother. If I took the time to write out all the feelings and thoughts I had throughout the time she raised me, it would be pretty savage. Kiese Laymon writes with the eloquence and love he had for his mother expertly.

His writing style is beautiful. I wouldn’t say poetic because I’m not a fan of lyrical writing, but it does have a rhythm to it. It’s easy to read and easily digestible. I honestly would love to read more of his work in the future because he’s such a prolific writer.

I loved his usage of the word “heavy.” It’s describing his world and how the weight of his world sits squarely on his shoulders; the metaphorical Atlas. However, it also discusses his issues with his weight which bounced from over 300 pounds and then down to 159 pounds and everywhere in between. The book felt like a cycle of hatred towards yourself, your race, your class, and even your gender. However, it’s the reality of his life that he wanted to share with us. In that respect, this book actually feels uplifting.

Because everything he came across, he tried to handle the best way he can. Perhaps it wasn’t ideal every single time, but you get the sense that he’s trying. I would imagine a world like his would lead to some more self-destructive things, but you don’t see him down a bunch of pills or even do a lot of drugs and drinking. That doesn’t mean he didn’t do anything self-destructive. There was a lot of that, but in a different form. I think for him, it was his obsession with food, his writing and his work, and a little in the relationships he keeps.

Funnily, I kind of felt what he felt growing up. His mother was very adamant about his education; being a better Black person and even going above and beyond the bar for white people. In this way, I felt that kind of pressure to be the best. It makes me think back to that discussion my mom had with me about my school performance. “You have to work harder than everyone else, Simone,” she said to me. I thought she was just talking about my grades, but sometimes I wonder if she was talking about her struggle to fit into a predominantly white society.

And I think many POC can understand that and will draw them to this book because of that. My parents standards for me were ridiculously high and there were points where I couldn’t manage it. I was the one that was supposed to be a doctor or a lawyer. I was the one to be successful and send money back to my parents every month. I was the one to excel beyond the stereotypes people have put on my race. As a kid, this kind of pressure is debilitating. Most can handle it, but there’s the few that can’t.

Kiese and I come from two very different worlds, so I won’t be comparing myself anymore to him. Being an immigrant’s kid is different than being an African American’s kid and our lives were very different. But that sentiment is still the same; that we need to keep pushing ourselves and constantly proving we’re just the same as everyone else.

While his experience growing up as an impoverished Black kid in Jackson, MS might be specific to him and the people around him, the sentiments of this book can resonate with others. I feel like that’s the connection here and that’s what brings us closer together as humans. Leveling the playing field and sharing a real story that isn’t spreading stereotypes about African American families brings a sense of reality to everyone’s world.

I received a copy of this book from Scribner for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.

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