An autobiographical portrait of a black woman who worked her way up from convicted felon to award-winning reporter for the Washington Post. Only in retrospect does Gaines see her parents as having worked for the good of blacks by improving the well-being of their own family. As a teenager, she was, she says, a ""bullshit revolutionary"" who dismissed her father, an ex-Marine and a menial laborer, as an Uncle Tom and was attracted to macho men who exuded power. Ben, the first, gave her syphilis, persuaded her to steal from the store that employed her, and, when he was drafted, left her pregnant with their daughter, Andrea. She then married a man of whom her parents approved, but when he too was drafted and Ben reappeared, she gravitated back to her former boyfriend. This time he introduced her to heroin, and the romance finally ended when Gaines, carrying drugs for Ben and a friend of his, was busted. Although her lawyer bargained for probation, the conviction made it tough to find work until she learned to lie on job applications. Gaines progressed through more drugs and more destructive relationships. A major break came when, working as a secretary at the Charlotte Observer, her young white boss asked her to write for the employee newsletter. Still, she faced problems such as egregious racism (which made it difficult to find housing) and the needs of Andrea, who became troubled by depression. As Gaines turned her life around, she found in herself her father's ""spirit."" This is intriguing, because Gaines focuses on her father as an emotionally absent figure, but it is her mother whose presence is all but effaced from this account. A grueling story of a woman who made it despite the odds. But even after undergoing therapy, Gaines still hasn't finished blaming others for things she did to herself.