Wow! All I have to say is “Wow!” Saeed Jones’ memoir is a lot of things—a coming of age story, a story of growing up gay, a story of growing up black, a story of growing up gay and black in Texas, and the story of a single mother and her son. It’s probably about a lot more than that but as a straight white woman there are frequencies I cannot hear and they are not meant for me.
This is the kind of book that holds your heart in its hands and then every so often stomps on it. The opening poem, “Elegy with Grown Folks’ Music,” sets the stage and hints at the tragedy to come but there is so much ground to cover between that moment when Saeed watches his mom dancing to Prince’s “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” and the moment when he holds a life insurance check in his hand.
There’s a heartbreaking scene early on when young teenage Saeed, trying to understand his gayness, goes to the public library to research his “condition.” It’s the late 1990’s but still all he can find are either books for parents of gay kids that treat the situation like the kid has a cancer diagnosis or books about men with AIDS: “Gay men dying of AIDS like it was a logical sequence of events a mathematical formula, or a life cycle. Caterpillar, cocoon, butterfly; gay boy, gay man, AIDS. (9). He leaves the library, with his hands shaking, feeling like he has gotten an unwanted look into his future.
It is only a few months after this library visit that James Byrd, Jr. accepts a ride home from three white supremacists, who kill him by dragging him behind a speeding pickup truck. This happens only four hours away from the town that Saeed and his mom live in and the brief chapter that describes their reactions to the killing speaks volumes.
Saeed Jones is a poet and it shows here. Sometimes the writing is so beautiful, you want to stop and roll it around in your mouth. As you can tell, I highly recommend this book. I finished it over a week ago and I’m still thinking about it.