The End of Youngblood Johnson by Aaron Johnson

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

The End of Youngblood Johnson by Aaron Johnson with Jamie Buckingham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Immediately I felt the rush in my stomach. I knew I had killed myself. I tried to get up but could not move. Youngblood Johnson was dying.

For someone who doesn’t read a ton of memoirs, it’s almost strange how engrossed I get whenever I read this one from the 1970s, The End of Youngblood Johnson by Aaron Johnson (as told to Jamie Buckingham.) I’ve read the book three times now.

I mean, if it were a movie, it might be one I’d personally pass on watching. Heroin addiction is absolutely no joke, and Johnson’s earlier life as a junkie wasn’t any joke either. Add in some broken families, poverty, violence, pimps and prostitutes, crooked preachers, crooked cops, jail time–and you’ve got anything but a pleasant, feel-good story on your hands.

Yet, this is a real story. A story of faith that someone actually lived. And, no, the memoir isn’t exactly a pretty one, but life isn’t always pretty.

I don’t read books that seem messy for the sake of mess, books that go into salacious or gory details apparently just to shock my senses. But there are a lot of people who won’t know or imagine just how far redemption can reach if redeemed folks gloss over or remain silent about the dark places they’ve been redeemed from.

So, no, this isn’t a book for the faint of heart. It’s a tragic but ultimately touching and memorable account of one man’s passage from darkness into light.

 

I Will Not Fear: My Story of a Lifetime of Building Faith Under Fire by Melba Pattillo Beals

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. Revell provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.

I Will Not Fear: My Story of a Lifetime of Building Faith Under Fire by Melba Pattillo Beals

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Despite the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling against it, racial segregation in public schools was still prevalent in Little Rock, Arkansas for years afterward. In 1957, nine African American students were chosen to integrate the city’s all-white Central High School. Those students became known as the Little Rock Nine. One of their number, author Melba Pattillo Beals, recounts this matter and more in her memoir, I Will Not Fear: My Story of a Lifetime of Building Faith Under Fire.

As the title indicates, this isn’t just an account contained within the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, but it spans much more of the author’s lifetime and experiences. Even so, issues of prejudice and equal (or unequal) rights, including gender inequality, appear frequently throughout this story of adversity, faith, and perseverance.

This isn’t a book about detached, historical “figures” but about people. It’s not a testimony of immediate victories for social justice, or complete accord within the black community. Beals wasn’t even always sure she was doing the right thing by being a part of integration.

The author makes interesting points, including how racism isn’t merely about donning conspicuous white hoods or blatantly calling black people “niggers.” Subtle racism is just as vicious, and also treacherous, particularly when it’s institutionalized or otherwise trickier to call out and combat. Still, one of my biggest takeaways from the book is that when it comes to injustice and other challenges, you have to know when it’s time to hold your peace and simply keep on living, and when it’s time to speak up and fight.

Again, this book is about much more than racism and civil rights, but I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in social justice, Christian memoirs, or both.

 

Gone: A Girl, a Violin, a Life Unstrung by Min Kym

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. Blogging for Books provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.

Five Gold Stars

Gone

Gone: A Girl, a Violin, a Life Unstrung by Min Kym

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

No violin meant more to former child prodigy and then professional soloist Min Kym than the 1696 Stradivarius she found at age twenty-one. When, years later, thieves steal her violin from her, they essentially steal much more than a wooden instrument. Min Kym relates her story of losing her violin and finding her voice in her memoir, Gone: A Girl, a Violin, a Life Unstrung.

This author brings not only music but also her instrument itself to life through her words, so that her violin is thoroughly personified on the page. I’ll confess that the extent of it made me uncomfortable at times, as I don’t believe I’ll ever feel so deeply for an object.

But, as a writer and a bibliophile, it’s not like I don’t get it. (I mean, you may not see me when I hug a novel I’m reading or kiss the spine of one of my own books when it’s finally in print, but know that I do get it.)

I won’t pretend that I understood all of the author’s musical language, or that I recognized all of the renowned names she mentioned–some I did, some I didn’t. I also had a little trouble following the logical flow of her thoughts, here and there.

Yet, it’s those intangible but very real somethings she taps into through music, those indescribable places where the soul takes flight… Whether one has the experience through music, literature, or dance, through culinary arts or through connecting with loved ones–even if we haven’t the words to truly do those places justice, the experiences are universal.

This memoir is a journey, one with soaring highs, desolate lows, and crucial discoveries, and it closes on a note of hope that makes the journey all the more worth it.

 

 

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Trapp

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta von Trapp

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Countless people the world over are familiar with the collective singing sensation of Maria and Captain von Trapp and their several children from The Sound of Music, the Rodgers and Hammerstein film and the Broadway musical, which together garnered multiple Academy and Tony Awards. I wanted to read the real story behind it all, written by Maria herself, for a number of years before I finally did it–and it was quite the experience.

I was surprised at the amount of humor in the memoir, as the author relays the story of her family in such a personable voice, right from her opening line in “The Chapter Before the First” (since she’s worried that if she called it a Foreword or Introduction or something, we’d just skip over it, as she would.) And she and the Captain–well!

“I wish I could see your eyes when you read the announcement of my engagement,” the Captain writes in a letter to Fräulein Maria while she’s still only the governess of his children, referring to his possible betrothal to a certain Princess Yvonne.

All “flared up,” Maria immediately writes back, “My eyes are none of your business.” Heeheehee, now, Fräulein! Captain! You two.

It’s not all fun and games and a family in song, of course. The Nazi invasion into Austria makes things suddenly eerie. I mean, imagine your children coming home from school and reporting that the teachers are beginning to disappear, being replaced with new ones. Or you’re walking through town and see that the names of all the streets have been changed. It becomes illegal to greet your friends and neighbors with “hello” or any other salutations other than “Heil Hitler.” And speaking of the leader you’re supposed to hail, what do you do when you get a call declaring that your family has been chosen to sing for the Führer’s birthday? What happens if you say no to Adolf Hitler?

I was somewhat more engaged in the first half or so of the book than the second, and the account in Maria’s letter toward the end had a depressing effect on me. But overall, this is a rich and delightful memoir full of hope.

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Yeah, sure. Like I’d really be able to resist posting clips from the legendary and simply awesome Rodgers and Hammerstein film, here. Definitely one of my all-time favorite motion pictures. 🙂