cover image Fruit Punch: A Memoir

Fruit Punch: A Memoir

Kendra Allen. Ecco, $26.99 (176p) ISBN 978-0-06-304853-9

In this wholly original and unsparing work, essayist Allen (When You Learn the Alphabet) recounts her experience coming of age as a young Black woman in Texas in the 1990s and 2000s. Full of intense relationships that cycled through love, violence, possession, and avoidance, Allen’s childhood was deeply impacted by her codependent relationship with her mother and her strained relationship with her distant father. While she lightly trots through familiar events like first boyfriends and first-day-of-high-school anxiety (“I become a cliché and have a panic attack”), Allen’s prowess comes through in her blunt rendering of the powerlessness she struggled against as a Black woman navigating race and sexuality in the South. By age 16, she writes, “sex and shame with myself has become a lifeline I’ve conditioned to be good at.” That guilt was compounded by the confines of religion and the commands (“No bare legs”; “No questions”; “No sex”) of her great-great-uncle’s Southern Baptist church, where she grew up. Throughout, Allen’s voice is distinct and brash—recalling a car wreck she survived in high school, she writes, “I got the guts from cuts spilling out every second.” Indeed, the narrative rarely lets up in its frank or discomfiting depictions, but it yields a refreshingly authentic look at what it means to create oneself in a contradictory world. (Aug.)