Monday, April 26, 2021

Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson


GROWN was a book that I was immediately interested in upon hearing about it because (1) it was literally all over Instagram for a hot minute (okay, more like a hot month) and (2) that cover. I also really liked the premise. In the age of #MeToo, it feels really important to have books like this coming out that not only draw awareness to the issue of abuse but also sort of provide a sort of cathartic solace for the victims of such abuse where they have books that either make them feel seen or maybe make them realize that they're in or have been in an unhealthy relationship and that they aren't at fault for it.

Apparently, GROWN is loosely based off of R. Kelly, but it mostly seems to be about grooming behaviors and the blinding power of celebrity cult status. Enchanted is a normal high school girl with a beautiful singing voice. Her family are lower middle class and don't really have the funds to give her the launch pad she wants, so when she catches the attention of mega-star Korey Fields, she feels like she's won the lottery. Especially since he seems to know all of the words to make her feel special on a deeply personal level.

But the more time Enchanted spends with Korey, the more she begins to wonder if something isn't right. The eleven-year age gap, the purple drinks he plies her with, the way he begins to insult her as freely as he compliments her, the way he sometimes keeps her locked up in her room. Soon it starts to feel like she hasn't won the lottery at all, so much as plunged headfirst into a deep ocean without a life preserver. And it seems like her family, with their few resources, are in little to no position to help.

So I ended up not liking this as much as I wanted to. There were a couple things I thought GROWN did really well. It told the story of abuse without sensationalizing it or giving too many gory details (which is important since this is a young adult book). That said, it was still pretty horrific if you know what's really going on. I also liked that it touches upon the way that we, as a society, tend to approach victims of abuse, sometimes treating them with the suspicion that the perpetrators should be treated with. There's an assumption of falsehood in the way that some authority figures talk to people reporting crimes of abuse and this book calls that out, and it also calls out the fact that women of color can be disproportionately affected because of infrastructural inequality that ends up facilitating their abuse.

Things I didn't like were a little more integral to the writing itself. The dialogue was very wooden at times and didn't always flow in a way that felt natural. I also felt like all the characters who weren't Enchanted fell flat. Her parents and siblings, as others have pointed out, but also Korey himself. He was so oily and repulsive-- and yes, I know I'm biased since I knew exactly what he was going in and hated him for it, but he didn't really have any of the surface charm that these serial abusers tend to have that makes them so good at manipulating people. He was just skeevy. I'm not sure if that was the point or not. If it wasn't, it wasn't subtle. He might as well have worn a name tag that said, "Hi, I'm a CREEP." I also felt like the book was a bit all over the place in terms of execution, taking on too much for its page count, and ended up reading like an overly ambitious debut because of it.

So while this wasn't bad, I'm afraid it didn't quite live up to the hype, either. Still, it's worth a read.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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