Book Review: Tell Me Your Names and I Will Testify by Carolyn Holbrook

PopSugar 2020 Reading Challenge Prompt: N/A Other PS 2020 reading prompts this would satisfy: A book that's published in 202...

PopSugar 2020 Reading Challenge Prompt: N/A

Other PS 2020 reading prompts this would satisfy: A book that's published in 2020, A book that passes the Bechdel test, A book you picked because the title caught your attention, A book by a WOC, A book with at least a four-star rating on Goodreads, A book with more than 20 letters in its title

TW: Sexual assault, racism, domestic abuse, fatphobia, 

Tell Me Your Names and I Will Testify is a short collection of essays that were quick reading and a great resource for more anti-racist learning. I found the book to be easy to get through, and it didn't make me feel dumb as I read through it. While I've really enjoyed reading and listening to lots of books lately with deep ties into anti-racism (Just Mercy, Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race, Stamped from the Beginning, Thick: and Other Essays to name a few), at times those books could feel a bit dense and were harder for me to understand at times. All of these books have been difficult in terms of content, but as a reader, I find I like things that are easy to understand and that I can actually absorb. Just Mercy and Thick were both books I found to be told in formats that were easier for me to comprehend. Tell Me Your Names was another of those.

In this collection of essays, Carolyn Holbrook shares about her life from being a teenager mother to becoming a prominent figure in the Minnesota literary community.

While I'm not one to thoroughly read synopses or reviews prior to reading a book, this one was nothing like what I expected it to be. The beginning of the book was enthralling. Holbrook shares her experiences communicating with her ancestors, and in the start of the book she actually shared one of those experiences. However, I kind of misunderstood the setup and thought the other essays would feel more connected to the initial setup, and I didn't feel that many of the stories really even touched on that again, except in instances where Holbrook referred to her "sight."

One thing to note: The essays in this collection seem to all have been written at certain times and then just compiled together for a book. At times, the essays flowed well from one to the next, but at other times that essays seemed so disconnected. I would've really enjoyed the book more if the essays had flowed better. I just didn't feel like they were intentionally connected. There's no doubt that Holbrook is a strong writer and very talented (obviously, she's won many awards in the field and teaches writing courses), but as a collection of essays, it would have made more sense for them to have been edited more thoroughly in terms of an actual collection, meaning that those essays could've changed a bit from their original formats for them to feel more connected and make more sense in a collective format. That was really my biggest issue with the book.

In terms of each essay's storytelling, and the actual experiences shared throughout the book, I really enjoyed learning about Holbrook, her family, and her accomplishments. While this book certainly shared experiences she's faced due to being Black in America, I felt the overall theme of this book was about Black joy and accomplishments. Holbrook has done a lot and each of her experiences has led her to so many wonderful things. I actually really liked the quote shared below because it felt like a good reminder that it's okay to do things that are important to you, it's okay to be selfish when you need to be because you are important, and that those things that you do for yourself have the potential to change the lives of others, too.

"I never dreamed that my efforts to create something that was primarily for me would affect so many people." - Tell Me Your Names and I Will Testify, Carolyn Holbrook

Overall, the writing and storytelling were very strong in this collection of essays. I enjoyed what I read about and what I learned. I wasn't a huge fan of the formatting of this book and felt that the essays did not have a flow between them that made sense.

Goodreads rating: ★★★★☆

*Thanks to Netgalley for the digital review copy. All opinions are entirely my own.

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