In her poignant debut memoir, entrepreneur and social activist Patterson unfolds her familial lineage of women who wrestled with marriage either through divorces or in their rejection of the institution altogether, often opting for “partnership without laws.”
As a slight-framed African-American girl who attended mostly white private schools, the author’s own coming-of-age in 1970s Manhattan was fraught with challenges. The virtual opposite of her turbulent sister Ramona, Patterson searched for her identity while navigating the 1980s world of music and style at nightclubs and in college, continually encouraged by her father to be courageous and resilient and to embrace her blackness. Adulthood forced her to choose between a career in publishing and a temporary gig at a strip club. “As sexist as stripping for money sounds,” she writes, “I was dictating my own worth.” Yet her greatest trial as a woman and a mother would arrive with the birth of her third child, Penelope, and the ensuing challenge of “living with a reality that has turned me upside down.” As a toddler, Penelope experienced a radical, unconventional “declaration of self,” telling her mother, “I am a boy.” Patterson openly shares details from those early years, which were fraught with so many strong emotions, including guilt, confusion, and fear that Penelope would be robbed of the “uncomplicated freedom” of so-called normalcy. After months of soul-searching and discussions with her extended family, who were unconditionally accepting, the author came to terms with the reality that Penelope would now be known as Penel, her son. These revelations and developments did not occur, however, without bearing the brunt of societal intolerance, cruelty, and questioning of Patterson as a mother. “The world is unkind to people it doesn’t understand—to those who don’t live by its rules,” she writes. The author’s journey of familial love and fearless motherhood will particularly resonate with parents of transgender children and anyone who has struggled to be loved or accepted.
An emotionally saturated memoir: dynamic, moving, and colorful.