by Ta-Nehisi Coates |

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN DURBIN

MEMOIR

In his lyrical debut, former Time writer Coates tells the story of his West Baltimore childhood and his intellectual father, Paul, an ex-Black Panther and Vietnam vet whose emphasis on education—both in the classroom and on the streets—ushered the author into manhood. As an African-American growing up poor in the ’80s, Coates juggled the laws of his peers and the rule of his father; both demanded respect, but favor from one often meant losing the esteem of the other. He often fails on both fronts: A fight in school, for instance, ends in expulsion and ridicule from his classmates. His father doesn’t mince words: “Ta-Nehisi, you are a disgrace to this family’s name.” Coates’s struggle to win his dad’s approval, recounted in tough, minimal language that’s as quick to reference Transformers’ Optimus Prime as it is Angela Davis, makes for a brilliant coming-of-age story.

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