Book Review

Punch Me Up To The Gods

Punch Me Up to the Gods: A Memoir

  • Author: Brian Broome
  • Genre: Autobiography
  • Publication Date: May 18, 2021
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Thank you to Bookish First for providing me with a copy of this book. I am providing my honest opinion voluntarily.

CONTENT WARNING: child abuse, bullying, racism, homophobia, suicide attempt, drug use, alcohol use, anxiety, depression, addiction

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Punch Me Up to the Gods introduces a powerful new talent in Brian Broome, whose early years growing up in Ohio as a dark-skinned Black boy harboring crushes on other boys propel forward this gorgeous, aching, and unforgettable debut. Brian’s recounting of his experiences—in all their cringe-worthy, hilarious, and heartbreaking glory—reveal a perpetual outsider awkwardly squirming to find his way in. Indiscriminate sex and escalating drug use help to soothe his hurt, young psyche, usually to uproarious and devastating effect. A no-nonsense mother and broken father play crucial roles in our misfit’s origin story. But it is Brian’s voice in the retelling that shows the true depth of vulnerability for young Black boys that is often quietly near to bursting at the seams.

Cleverly framed around Gwendolyn Brooks’s poem “We Real Cool,” the iconic and loving ode to Black boyhood, Punch Me Up to the Gods is at once playful, poignant, and wholly original. Broome’s writing brims with swagger and sensitivity, bringing an exquisite and fresh voice to ongoing cultural conversations about Blackness in America.

This was a memoir that felt more like a story, and I couldn’t put it down. Brian Broome shares the story of his life, deftly weaving the experience as he watches a young Black boy on a bus with tales of his childhood and contrasts them with the experiences of his adulthood. While he shares these stories, he doesn’t hold anything back. 

Growing up as a young, dark-skinned, poor Black boy in rural Ohio, Brian wasn’t in an ideal situation. He dealt with racism early, and faced abuse from his father in the hopes of helping him to act like less of a sissy. His peers bullied him for being gay even before he knew anything about sex, and this strongly influenced his views of race and sexuality for a long time.

“But my Black, male body has betrayed its manhood on many occasions. My hips have swing too freely, and my heart has allowed itself to be broken far too easily. Tears, by far, have been my most pernicious traitors, and it took a long time before I was able to dry the wellspring up. My body has finally learned.”

However, these internalized views impacted his behavior into adulthood, slowing his path to self-acceptance. A lot of the book was so painful to read, and there were so many times that I wanted to just give the author a huge hug and tell him that he was just fine the way he was, even though I know that it wouldn’t have changed those long-held beliefs. 

But I think the part of the book that I enjoyed the most was how it portrayed the author as a work in progress. It’s a memoir, so it doesn’t all wrap up neatly with a full resolution the way a fictional story would. The author doesn’t share his story from a place of nirvana, where he has reached a place of perfection, emotional enlightenment, and complete healing. He just talks about his story and lives in his truth, using a simple yet deep and evocative writing style. I loved seeing his progress through life and the work he puts in towards self-acceptance. 

“When I was a kid, I thought that the key to being a Black man was to learn how to properly lean on things to look cool. What I didn’t know at the time is that what Black men lean on the most, whether we want to admit it or not, is Black women.”

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