Rating: 5 / 5
Kiese Laymon’s Heavy is the deeply personal memoir of a Black boy growing up in Jackson, Mississippi and learning from experiences at once traumatic and uplifting, careless and loving, heavy and light.
Kiese has been writing since he was a child, since his mother and Grandmama assigned him prompts on politics and racism and God. He was groomed for literary and Black excellence because his mother always knew – even when he forgot – that he would need to be twice as excellent, twice as poised, twice as articulate than his white counterparts in order to receive half the praise they do.
Kiese marks life events and stages by his weight during them. He eats to comfort himself, and the scale climbs. He doesn’t mind his body as it is, until he does. He is heavy, both bodily and thoughtfully. He feels so much, has so much empathy for others, that when he falters, makes mistakes, lies, the pressure of it all crushes him and he eats.
Kiese will become a professor, a writer, an activist for the Black community – specifically Black women and children. But he will not escape the weights of his life that cause him to be so heavy.
Please take caution while reading Heavy if any of the following topics may trigger you:
- Sexual assault
- Child abuse
- Eating disorders / body hatred
- Racism and racial slurs
I am flabbergasted by Kiese Laymon and Heavy. My heart ached for him as I read his intensely intimate memoir: the racism against him and his loved ones; his unfaltering adoration and loyalty to his mother whose imperfections affected him immensely; the constant hurdles put up by himself, his past, and society he had to jump over.
The flinching honesty with which Laymon writes about himself, his mother, his body, his desires, his relationships, and his inner thoughts is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It’s a surreal feeling, reading something unbelievably personal that drags you in and holds on tight, and at the same time having no understanding of the experiences that are being described. It dawned on me while reading this how absolutely little I understand about the Black experience in America. When my mouth was dropping from a description of racism or of Laymon’s family life, the community that this was written for must have been shaking their heads in agreement and understanding.
Laymon writes directly to his mother, “you,” at all times. He tells her that, based on their relationship and her constant advice throughout his life, he knows that she wants him to lie in this book. She wants him to lie about their relationship and their life, to lie about the experiences he’s been through as a Black man, and to lie about who the book is written for. The book is written for you – his mother – and for Black readers. As a white reader, I was utterly affected by his writing even knowing that it wasn’t for me. Reading the truth, whether it’s directed at you or not, is always worthwhile, and this memoir does not deviate from that.
Heavy is a literary piece of art that should be required reading for life – for understanding racism, relationships with your body and others’, consent, success and failure, and so much more. It is wonderful, abundant, and poignantly important. Just go read it, trust me.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my thoughts about Heavy. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the memoir in the comments or at my Instagram, @bookmarkedbya.