Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir

By: Nikki Grimes

Growing up with a mother suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and a mostly absent father, Nikki Grimes found herself terrorized by babysitters, shunted from foster family to foster family, and preyed upon by her mother's second husband. At the age of six, she poured her pain onto a piece of paper late one night—and discovered the magic of writing. Through subsequent years, her notebooks were her most enduring companions. In this remarkable memoir told in both poetry and prose, Grimes explores her harrowing past, showing how the power of words helped her conquer the hazards—ordinary and extraordinary—of life.

Author’s note. Black-and-white photographs.

ISBN: 9781629798813

JLG Release: Jan 2020


Sensitive Areas: Crime: General, Drugs/Alcohol/Tobacco: Drug Use/Abuse, Language: Mild Language, Discrimination: Racial Insensitivity/Racism, Violence: Sexual Assault/Rape, Sexual Content: Strong Sexual Content/Themes, Drugs/Alcohol/Tobacco: Underage Use, Violence: Mild Violence
Topics: Nikki Grimes (1950– ) , Foster care , Abuse , Schizophrenia , African Americans , High schools , Interpersonal relations , Memoirs in verse , Coming of age , Writers and writing

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Awards & Honors

Horn Book Fanfare - 2019
CPL Best Books - 2019
Bulletin Blue Ribbons - 2019
Michael L. Printz Award Honoree - 2020
Robert L. Sibert Award Honoree - 2020

Praise & Reviews

Starred or favorable reviews have been received from these periodicals:

Booklist*, Publishers Weekly*, The Horn Book Magazine*, Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal

School Library Journal

Grimes offers young adult readers the special treat of literary ingenuity in her new memoir. “Time to grab my flashlight / and step into the tunnel,” Grimes writes in an early poem—making reference to her task with this new work. In long poems, short poems, and the occasional prose poem, Grimes guides us through her past tragedies and triumph Grimes offers young adult readers the special treat of literary ingenuity in her new memoir. “Time to grab my flashlight / and step into the tunnel,” Grimes writes in an early poem—making reference to her task with this new work. In long poems, short poems, and the occasional prose poem, Grimes guides us through her past tragedies and triumphs while keenly observed moments build her inner world. Readers spend time with three different points of view: child Grimes, adolescent Grimes, and burgeoning adult Grimes. Though the circumstances and characters change as she moves and grows, her voice is consistently spare and warm. The poems about experiencing neglect as a five-year-old carry the same powerful simplicity as those written about high school. A memoir that doesn’t demand a time line, this work is a personal history in poems that you can read backward and forward. This nontraditional memoir from a long-working and highly acclaimed author will speak deeply to young readers harboring their own interest in writing or otherwise squeezing art out of life’s spiky fruit.

Horn Book

As poetically written as Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming (rev. 9/14) with a story as hard-hitting as Sapphire’s Push. In her author’s note, Grimes says that memoirs focus on truth, not fact. Because of the childhood trauma she suffered, she has limited memories of her early years but has constructed the truths of her life from a p As poetically written as Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming (rev. 9/14) with a story as hard-hitting as Sapphire’s Push. In her author’s note, Grimes says that memoirs focus on truth, not fact. Because of the childhood trauma she suffered, she has limited memories of her early years but has constructed the truths of her life from a patchwork of recollections; photos obtained from friends and family; and a few artifacts salvaged despite the frequent moves of her impoverished family and time spent in foster care. Overshadowing most of the story, Nikki’s mother’s mental illness (paranoid schizophrenia), alcoholism, and marriage to an abusive and irresponsible man made Nikki’s early life hazardous. In a childhood in which she had to elude rats in her apartments and bullies and gangs in her neighborhoods and in which she was sexually violated by her stepfather, Nikki found solace and confidence through her identity as a writer. She was supported and nurtured by her sister, from whom she was separated at age five; by her father, a violinist who immersed Nikki in Harlem’s Black Arts scene; and by a demanding English teacher who insisted on excellence. As her story unfolds (the book is arranged in sections, chronologically, beginning in 1950 and ending in 1966), the striking free-verse poems powerfully convey how a passion for writing fueled her will to survive and embrace her own resilience. “My spiral notebook bulges / with poems and prayers / and questions only God / can answer. / Rage burns the pages, / but better them / than me.” A must-read for aspiring writers.

Book Details

ISBN

9781629798813

First Release

January 2020

Genre

Nonfic

Dewey Classification

B

Trim Size

6" x 9"

Page Count

336

Accelerated Reader

N/A

Scholastic Reading Counts

N/A

Lexile

Level 840L

Format

Print Book

Edition

Hardcover edition

Publisher

Wordsong

Potentially Sensitive Areas

Crime: General, Drugs/Alcohol/Tobacco: Drug Use/Abuse, Language: Mild Language, Discrimination: Racial Insensitivity/Racism, Violence: Sexual Assault/Rape, Sexual Content: Strong Sexual Content/Themes, Drugs/Alcohol/Tobacco: Underage Use, Violence: Mild Violence

Topics

Nikki Grimes (1950– ), Foster care, Abuse, Schizophrenia, African Americans, High schools, Interpersonal relations, Memoirs in verse, Coming of age, Writers and writing,

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