PUNCH ME UP TO THE GODS
$17.99 trade paper, available now
WINNER OF THE 34TH ANNUAL PUBLISHING TRIANGLE AWARDS: THE RANDY SHILTS AWARD FOR GAY NONFICTION!
A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK FOR 2021!
Listen to this interview with Author Broome!
Rating: 4* of five
The Publisher Says: 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.
I RECEIVED A DRC FROM THE PUBLISHER VIA NETGALLEY. THANK YOU.
My Review: I'll start with a fact: The author's a poet.
One of the reasons I took this trip is to prove to myself that I am allowed to take up space in the world. I used to believe that the space I occupied was conditional. That I had to please anyone and everyone around me in order to exist because I had made the horrible mistake of being different.
It is only through your own lived experience that you will learn that living on the outside of "normal" provides the perfect view for spotting insecure and flimsy principles camouflaging themselves as leadership or righteousness.
Black boys don't get a long boyhood. It ends where white fear begins, brought on by deepening voices, broadening backs, and coarsening hair in new places beneath our clothing. Then there's our skin, which provides little middle ground.
You won't get a whisper of a whine from me about Author Broome's beautiful phrase-making. He is up there in the poetic-prose rankings. He could, and most likely will, give James Baldwin a run for his epoch-making money in the poetic eloquence on the Essence of Blackness derby.
Yes, I said that and I meant it. Moreso than other writers on Blackness, Author Broome's dual Othering of being a Black gay man adds the ingredient so often missing in manifestoes like Heavy or Between the World and Me. Worthy reads, even necessary ones. Tears We Cannot Stop offers a more religious, sentimental slant on the subject of Black maleness, and is an equally necessary voice to attend to. But James Baldwin, in his significant for its being so overlooked essay Nothing Personal, brings his religious past and his queer present and his uncertainty about the future into focus in much the same way that Author Broome does: as fact, as solid ground, as new, everlasting source of Otherness among the Othered. There being fifty-plus years between the two books, there are differences of tone made possible by the progress that has happened. There is not, however, a difference of kind in the subject of these books: The authors are Othered Others and are not allowed to make a life that doesn't center their Othered Otherness in this, our glorious country.
Author Broome uses the framing device of a young Black boy being psychologically shredded by the father who, I do not doubt for an instant, loves him and wants him to become a superstar in this world. To that father, as he browbeats and abuses his probably-queer young son, that means beating the gay out of him. That's also what it meant to Author Broome's father, emasculated by the same round of deindustrialization that created so many billionaires, and to Baldwin's religious-nut stepfather. The truth is these men, these fathers, aren't alone in thinking that they as well as their sons would be happier if the boys were either straight or dead. A quick flick of one's eyes over the statistics on adolescent suicide and teen drug use...this last plays quite a role in Author Broome's life...teaches us the toxic price paid by father, son, acquiescent or indifferent mother in death and destroyed personhood and family.
I think the power of reading the author's memories of growing up the Othered Other really rests in this: However easy it might have been for him to give in and let his addiction to drugs drag him into death, he does not. He stands on the rocks of his father's failed life, his mother's rage at...well, everything, and the cruel bonds of racist hatefulness (the dance party scene broke me), and he creates beautiful phrases and uses them to limn horrifying images onto my grotesquely privileged brain.
I have no method to persuade you that the act of shoving your most tender feelings way down deep or trying somehow to numb them will only result in someone else having to pick up your pieces later.
That, I feel, pretty much sums up the value in reading this book.
I've rated it four stars because, in service of being brought out in tree-book form, it's been made a little longer than it might should've been. About two-thirds of the way through the read, I realized I was using my commonplace book more than my Kindle's highlights function. The rapturous feeling of reading the beautiful words was ever-present. The story's painfully survived outlines weren't new to me. I don't expect them to be at my age. But the frankness about his sexual, um, adventures let us say, isn't fresh or new. It's raw, honest, and there for a reason, but what I think happened is that the otherwise too-loose narratives (from repetition) weren't a powerful enough frame to offer those very, very acute and sharp-edged memories their most effective perspective.
It is a small detraction from a large, loomingly menacingly honest, account of a Black Gay man's life in a world that hates each of those identites and conditions. The combination?
Read this book to find out.