Black History Month Book Review: Around The Way Girl by Taraji P. Henson

 From Academy Award nominee, Golden Globe winner, and star of the new motion picture Hidden Figures, Taraji P. Henson, comes an inspiring and funny book about family, friends, the hustle required to make it from DC to Hollywood, and the joy of living in your own truth.

With a sensibility that recalls her beloved screen characters, including NASA physicist mathematician Katherine G. Johnson, Yvette, Queenie, Shug, and the iconic Cookie from Empire, yet is all Taraji, the screen actress writes of her family, the one she was born into and the one she created. She shares stories of her father, a Vietnam vet who was bowed but never broken by life's challenges, and of her mother who survived violence both in the home and on DC's volatile streets. Here too she opens up about her experiences as a single mother, a journey some saw as a burden but which she saw as a gift.

Around the Way Girl is also a classic actor’s memoir in which Taraji reflects on the world-class instruction she received at Howard University and the pitfalls that come with being a black actress. With laugh-out-loud humor and candor, she shares the challenges and disappointments of the actor’s journey and shows us that behind the red carpet moments, she is ever authentic. She is at heart just a girl in pursuit of her dreams.

I've only read a handful of memoirs because I find many of them to be dry and self-serving. The memoir really has to be that of an amazing human being in order for me to read it. Well during a trip to the library my eyes locked on Around The Way Girl by Taraji P. Henson. I knew of (and respected)  Taraji way before Empire came on television, but what I didn't know was that she had a book out. I snatched that book off the shelf super fast! 

That evening, there was no question about what book I was diving in to. From the moment I began reading, I couldn't fly through the pages fast enough. Yes, this book uses a ghost-writer, but the words still feel like they came straight out of Taraji's mouth. I felt like she was speaking to my soul. There is a lot of truth is the phrase: "You don't always find a book, sometimes a book finds you." This book came to me during a very transitional time in my life and Taraji's words of encouragement felt like continual bursts of fresh air directly my soul.

Taraji doesn't spout the same ol' "you can do it no matter what" message. In stead, she uses her life story to show that even against all odds you can build the life you want. In many cases, she received life changing opportunities that sometimes appeared to be negative opportunities in the beginning. However, she definitely turned those lemons in to lemonade. It was encouraging to see that she didn't have her entire life figured out at 25 (the same age I am now) and through hard work, perseverance and never giving up at 46 she is now living the life she always imagined she would.

One of the best thngs about the book is that it didn't feel stuffy like she was simply rattling off important moments in her life.

This memoir was the complete opposite of that drone like tone memoirs often have. I felt like I was having sweet tea, in my backyard on a hot summer's day and having a nice long chat with my girlfriend Taraji! I laughed out loud sometimes and got strange looks from my family, but I didn't care, I was having a good time reading this book. Some moments in the film where she spoke about the abuse she suffered from her boyfriend and the abuse she witnessed her father inflict upon her mother left me speechless. I really did feel her pain and I really did feel her pride when she gave birth to her first son. It was good to see that she sticks up for extras when she sees them being treated badly because she still remembers being treated poorly as an extra. Unlike other celebrities who claim to remember where they came from (*cough, cough * Jennifer Lopez), Taraji is  still truly an around the way girl.This book was placed in my hands at the time I needed it the most. I'm grateful it was not just another "pat on the back" type memoir.  It's a memoir that could truly help a lot of people through this journey of life that just seems to keep getting harder and harder everyday.

The only flaw in this book is you could easily tell when the ghost writer was speaking. There were times where the technicality of a movie were constantly repeated. For example, "Baby Boy directed by John Singleton," would be constantly repeated. If we're told who directed it once, we don't need to be reminded again.

It was a minor annoyance, but it definitely didn't take away from the powerfulness of this memoir. I have more respect for Taraji P. Henson than ever and I think anyone who reads this book will respect her a million times over as well.

Grab your copy on Amazon
Add it to your Goodreads list