Chances are, if you’re reading this, you already know at least one thing about Issa Rae—she’s the internet’s most famous Awkward Black Girl. Known by some as the Queen of Web Series, Rae was one of the pioneering voices of web television with her celebrated series, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, which she created, produces and stars in. Now, she is bringing her unique brand of humor to her first book, a memoir by the same name.
But, how did Rae evolve from said awkward black girl to a woman who writes, “For the majority of my life I cared too much about how my blackness was perceived, but now? I couldn’t care less. Call it maturation or denial or self-hatred—I give no f%^&s”? You’re about to find out.
The book takes readers behind the scenes and into the life of Jo-Issa Diop, now more commonly known as Issa Rae, from her childhood to her…awkward…adolescence, into college and beyond.
And while Rae covers everything from her trepidation at dancing at parties (“To this day, I’ve never been to a party where the room turns into a circle and select attendees get in the middle to perform freestyle dance moves… And yet all of my dancing fantasies revolve around this essential party group formation.”) to dieting as an adult (“As of late, I can last six days maximum before I wild the fuck out. There’s always a social gathering, an event, a Red Lobster commercial to expose my thinly veiled self-promises for what they really are: pathetic lies.”) the book often has a much more serious tone than expected, in particular, throughout the many essays in which Rae writes about her family.
In fact, the book is mostly told from Rae’s childhood and pre-teen years, through which she navigates an early obsession to internet chat rooms, inability to “freak dance” on par with her school friends and generally fit in with her black peers (the chapters on Rae’s struggle to listen to the right music, and wear the right clothes are things that everyone who’s ever been in middle school can probably understand), and frequent visits from her father’s family friends, among other hilarious exploits.
But where the book, and Rae’s writing, comes through most powerfully is in the chapter in which she details her parents’ painful divorce and her still-evolving relationship with her father. The emotion jumps off the page as Rae relives the moment her parents told her and her siblings that they were separating, her discovery that her father was the cause of the split, and how it felt to help her mother through the ordeal, as well as watch her father move on much more quickly than she could have imagined—and hiding it from her. Her decision to focus mostly on family becomes clear through this chapter—this is where the heart of her story truly lies.
Of course, It’s no secret that Rae is a good writer, but it is a pleasure to see that she can take the smarts from her scripts to book pages and it will be interesting to see where else Rae can take the form (a comedic novel perhaps?)
The timeline employed here, jumping back and forth from Maryland to Los Angeles to New York as Rae grows up and moves around, can become disorienting despite the author disclaimer at the opening of the book, and while whispers of the development of the web series for which she is most well-known do appear here, some readers may be disappointed to see how little time Rae spends on discussing her college life, early adulthood and the work she has done on her web series.
And though she does begin a passionate discussion of diversity in online and new media (“With ever-evolving, new accessible technologies, there are many opportunities to reclaim our images, There’s no excuse not to, and I’ve never felt more purposeful in my quest to change the landscape of television.”) Rae leaves the impression that she has much more to say on her work, creativity, and media representation. It’s not hard to imagine Rae releasing her own #GIRLBOSS-esque book in the very near future.
Overall, though, Rae’s first effort is a great addition to the growing trend of hilarious women telling their stories, and will be an entertaining read for old fans, as well as a fun and illuminating introduction for new ones. –KERRI JAREMA
See more from Lydia’s Winter issue below!