It’s been a little while since I listened to a celebrity memoir type audiobook and my “in the car driving” mood was calling out for one. I had heard a lot of people saying that they enjoyed Union’s book, so when I saw it on the new audiobooks display, I grabbed it before I even looked to see what else was available!
“…you can be scared to death […] and do the thing you need to do anyway.”
This collection of stories is interesting because, throughout them, you do get to sort of piece together (at least in skeleton form) what Union’s life looked like. However, this was definitely not the typical celebrity memoir, in that you should not expect to find the “this is my road to how I got famous” plotline. In fact, in one story, Union is just a normal teenager, and in the next she is referencing her time on set in some of her famous early movies. Boom. I actually liked that. Really, from the ones I’ve read, every celebrity has a specific and personal road to fame and there’s no real “formula,” but even still, that part tends to seem repetitive from book to book. I loved that this collection of stories about important moments and feelings and situations from her life is, more or less, just that. It is linear, but it’s snapshot emotions (or a snapshot of more enduring emotions). The only problem is that, at times, the feelings/actions of one chapter may in fact be contradicted in another, but that’s part of her growth as a person and you have to understand that as you read. In fact, her openness and honesty about many parts/points of her life, even the ones that do not, perhaps, show her best side or most selfless actions, is one of the things that I liked best about this book. There are times when she prioritizes competition to be the best/to get work over being a better role model. There are times when she handles relationships in a less than mature way (and sometimes even quite manipulatively). There are times when, despite all the invisibility and pressure to assimilate she has faced, she has inflicted that on others as well. But there is not one of us who hasn’t done some, if not all, of those things too. And I loved her for being willing to speak about it publicly.
There are a few other parts that I would like to highlight, as sections that stuck out or hit home particularly. First, I’d like to thank Union, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing the story of her rape. That is so personal, so painful, and so absolutely terrifying (both when it happened and in her decision to share it widely) – I cannot imagine the bravery it took her to speak out about it like this. And not just that, but the insights she shares into the process of going through the court system with it (something many people never have the chance or ability to do) and the ridiculous realization that there were many parts of her treatment (from law enforcement to medical professionals) that she has said she is grateful for because many women do not get those same considerations…the entire idea of that is an outrage. So that you, also, for your advocacy on that front. I also want to thank her for addressing the outrageous and invasively personal questions about her because she is a woman, particularly in relation to becoming pregnant and having children, and her plans therein. This story too must have been very difficult for her to share with the world, but is just as important for women everywhere.
In addition to that, Union spends a lot of time talking about her experience growing up in an all white community, the way being white was “natural” and anything else was “other,” and lengths to which she went to, as she referred to it, assimilate. In general, her discussions throughout the book about her own need for validation, both from within and externally, how that gets twisted, and what she was willing to do to get it (both in situations that arose from her being female or black or, in most cases, the intersectionality there) is striking. This concept is universal, of course, but is also something that never, ever, gets enough attention or recognition. For someone in her position to be talking about it is so important. Perhaps others have said it better, more eloquently, but the message is the same and, by saying it at all, Union is using her power in the best way. And we, as white people and/or men, need to listen. Hard. This continues later as she talks about her experiences of being marginalized and looked over in Hollywood, even after she has, if you will, “made it big.” And it continues even as she married Dwayne Wade and became doubly famous. And it continues to this day in her concerns for the boys she and Dwayne are raising together…because even living in affluent communities and having all the resources in the world, they are still facing the same things she dealt with at their age (and worse, because they are male).
It’s not just these more serious topics that Union writes about. We do hear about her time on set in some of our favorite “cult” classics (if I can use that term for these movies) like Bring it On and Ten Things I Hate About You. There’s a hilarious story about this girl in high school that just hated her and things got crazy! There is a wonderful and uplifting chapter about Prince, Union’s relationship with him, and how he was able to create so many open and far-reaching connections and communication and what that meant to her. There are some funny-depressing moments about things she’s done in relationships to hide certain parts of herself or to get what she wants (we’ve all been there). So you can look forward to all that as well.
There were references to a lot of shows and actors that I did not know (this happens in all celebrity memoirs for me – I am more of a book reader than a Hollywood follower – but I’m sure there were more than normal because, as she repeatedly talks about, black entertainers, “black Hollywood,” are swept aside so often) and situations I can’t necessarily relate too (like high school drinking, parental cheating and many issues that come with fame…though that’s the point of reading memoirs, right?), but that did not at all stop me from enjoying listening to this collection.
Union reads it herself and does a phenomenal job. Her voice truly brings her own stories to life. As I mentioned, there are definitely some fun parts to this “memoir,” and of course they made me laugh and it was good. But for sure the most lasting parts are the serious ones. The themes and topics that she feels strongly about are clear and present throughout the book. She does everything she can to make it clear that these causes, these lived experiences, are close to her heart and she will continue to fight and advocate for them. And so should you. I loved that part of this memoir. It was just so much more because of those parts. Well done.