An accomplished U.S. Navy chief petty officer reflects on the lessons that he learned during a difficult childhood.
Debut author Spence was largely raised by his paternal grandmother, Evelyn Spence, in the countryside on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. His mother had become disabled and epileptic after a stroke, and his mercurial father struggled with drug addiction, so neither was a stable presence during his early years. Evelyn, however, was a model authority figure—gentle but strict, and devoted to her spiritual life—and she provided the author with a loving and safe environment in which to grow, despite her modest financial means. But when the author was 13, Evelyn died of cancer, and his life was thrown into a tailspin. As an impulsive teenager without direction, he flitted from one transient living arrangement to another. He graduated high school in 2000 but remained adrift. After he was arrested for driving with a suspended license, he decided that his life needed purpose and commitment, so he enlisted in the Navy. The remainder of Spence’s story is deeply inspiring; he enjoyed a successful military career, quickly rising through the ranks and serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan. During his service, he was able to earn two college degrees and rise to the level of chief petty officer. Spence says that he discovered ways to overcome his self-destructive tendencies: “I used my shortcomings as fuel to push me throughout my career to be the best I could be.” His story is a heartwarmingly positive one, and he tells it with admirable humility and self-effacing candor. Spence’s prose is companionably informal, and his reflections concise. As a result, this work feels more like a long essay than a full-length book. The overall narrative arc is meandering, at times—Spence digresses at one point to reflect on lessons that he learned while dating, for instance—and his accounts of his family’s genealogy can be overly detailed and confusing. However, this memoir remains enjoyably instructive, and it serves as a moving homage to those who supported the author. (Personal, color photographs are included.)
A brief but affecting account of personal triumph in the face of youthful disadvantages.