Book Review: “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl” by Issa Rae

I realized that I probably need to take some time to develop some critical distance from the pieces I read or watch, because my immediate reaction to most things is I really enjoyed it (unless it’s Catwoman. See Suicide Squad review.) So I read The Misadventures of Akward Black Girl and then took a break from it before writing this, and as I suspected, my feelings are a lot different.

Yes, it was funny; yes, it was entertaining; yes, it was worth the money.

However, it was also what expected and nothing more.

I watched Issa Rae’s webseries of the same name and loved it. It was glorious. A true window into my life. Someone understands! So I’m familiar with Issa Rae’s style and sense of humor and the type of story telling she likes. Reading the book felt like watching the webseries. It was perfectly in sync with the style I’ve come to adore, but it didn’t do more for me. 

What I did like, however, was that this was a memoire. I got to learn about her as a person. I learned that she’s Senegalese and so the parts in which she uncovers African culture or switches into French or the bits about her name were extraordinarily appealing. I love her unapologetic quest to express herself, which usually is a result of a firm sense of self. I love that she’s awkward and instead of trying to change it, she shares it with others. 

To return to the question of why it didn’t do as much for me as the webseries, however, seems to be a matter of expectation. I walked into the book expecting it to be more or less the same as the webseries. I was expecting it to be a series of fictive vignettes underlining the themes of Blackness, awkwardness and femininity. And it is totally okay that I didn’t get what I was expecting. I loved the memoire, I just was expecting something different. 

Had I been evaluating it in terms of what I was expecting for a memoire, my reaction might have been different.

But overall, it’s another win for Issa Rae. She’s self-deprecating in her humor, willing to recount even the most horrific of stories for the audience’s benefit. She’s honest with herself which makes her all the more relatable. It’s laugh out loud funny. Seriously, everyone has a friend like Issa Rae, and if you don’t, you are that friend. 

Learning that she is a second generation Senegalese-American brings another layer to her work. This is no longer just the African-American experience, but she’s now introducing the element of immigrant life, second-generation life. You’re no longer just inspecting the line between white and black and the American sense, but white America and how they look at African Black people, American Black people and African Black people, and those who fall somewhere in between. It feels as though awkwardness, though it is a result of Issa Rae’s personality to a degree, it also comes from having to straddle so many different lines and having no comfortable place to call “home.” Identity is tricky. I’m interested to know how we decide who we are, what labels make us happy and comfortable. Issa Rae is also exploring this in her work, but in a way that is humorous and accessible to so many, so I applaud her for her book.

I’m hoping Insecure is equally amazing. 

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