At the time I wrote this review (July 2013) I have not read one non-fiction book this year. That's of no surprise to anyone who knows me. I read non-fiction less than I work out. So why this one? Well basically, the author is a friend of mine and she asked me to. Granted it took me a while, but again... if you know me then you know that I read according to how I feel, not when I should.
I was also apprehensive because anytime a friend asks you to read something you always wonder how they will react if you didn't like their work. I mean let's be honest. Authors have thinner hides than some onionskin Bibles I know. Don't laugh, they do! But I let her know like I let everyone know; I'll read it on my time and give you an honest critique, are you OK with that? She was so, I did.
And let me tell you, she has nothing to worry about.
This is one of the shortest yet most heart breaking short story collections I've read in a long, long time. Like I said earlier, I'm not a non-fiction reader. I'm fiction junkie 99% of the time. Any of the violence, cruelty, and hurt I read about I can detach myself from because I tell myself that it isn't real.
Not so with non-fiction. Even less so with this book.
Matter of fact when I was reading this book I actually texted Vernica to ask her if these stories were truly real. She said “yes" and I said "damn".
Every one of these stories is real and every one of these stories will touch and haunt you. The stories focus on HIV and AIDS and how it affects the person with the disease as well as the people around them. Vernica writes that it was an "honor and a privilege" to be invited into these women's lives. I don't doubt that at all. But it damn sure couldn't have been easy... no way it could have been easy. These eight stories are difficult to read because of the subject matter, but they are eight stories that should be read because they are as poignant today as they were when AIDS blasted into our consciousness in the last 1970's and changed our world forever.
Here are a few that really tore at me:
'Ms. S' - This old lady... while her body may spill the secrets of her age, her spirit never will. Unfortunately living free and young comes with consequences.
'Tameka' - This sister was a TRIP! Easily the most colorful character in the book… and I couldn't stand her ass! The worst type of evil (in my opinion) is doing evil with full knowledge knowing that you're doing evil. I read this entire story shaking my head and secretly wishing bad things would happen to Tameka. And no, I didn't feel bad in the least bit doing so.
'Vivian' - This one was shocking because of the revelation at the end of the story.
'Amy' - If there is one story that stands in this collection that stands out as the most heartbreaking and raw, this one would be it. Even now I'm having trouble putting just how... raw this story was. It's impossible not to feel her pain and you wish so much that you could just reach in the book and take some of that pain away.
'Holley' - is another story that made me upset while I was reading it. But unlike Tameka, I was mad at Holley because she was malicious. I was mad because Holley was just stupid. Sorry, but she was. Her husband Ralph wasn't any better but damn Holley... really?! I know it's probably not fair to want to backhand this woman, but hell, she needs it.
At the end of each story Vernica gives us facts and figures about HIV and AIDS as well as information in case we need to reach out to someone for help. These facts coupled with the true stories really make you sit up and think about how AIDS has affected our neighborhood, community, and world.
Vernica is very passionate about this subject and it is evident in her writing. There are a few small areas where she gets preachy (the Mona and Vivian stories for one) but I assume that's to be expected when you are around this every day. It's always hard for first time authors to make a splash in today's book world and it's not easy. But if you're going to do it, then I suggest writing about something that is true to your soul.
Vernica did. And it shows.