Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir
Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir

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Annotation: In her own voice, acclaimed author and poet Nikki Grimes explores the truth of a harrowing childhood in a compelling and moving memoir in verse.
Genre: Biographies
Catalog Number: #200598
Format: Perma-Bound Edition from Publisher's Hardcover
All Formats: Search
Publisher: Boyds Mills Press
Copyright Date: 2019
Edition Date: 2019
Pages: 325 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: Publisher: 1-629-79881-9 Perma-Bound: 0-7804-6646-2
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-1-629-79881-3 Perma-Bound: 978-0-7804-6646-3
Dewey: 921
LCCN: 2019902537
Dimensions: 23 cm.
Language: English
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up 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 poemmaking 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. VERDICT 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. Sierra Dickey, Center for New Americans, Northampton, MA
Starred Review ALA Booklist
*Starred Review* With Ordinary Hazards, Grimes delivers a memoir in the form of a powerful and inspiring collection of poems. She details her early life through adulthood, and she unabashedly explores the highs as well as the lows. Grimes' struggle with a mother suffering from mental illness, an absent father, and an abusive stepfather plunged her life into turmoil at an early age. Yet through it all, she persevered and used writing as an outlet for her pain. She delves into finding a loving found family after being separated from her older sister and bounced around in foster care, ultimately having to choose between her found family and her birth mother, after her birth mother claims to be well enough for Grimes to come home. Young adults will identify with and connect to the many challenges explored in Grimes' work, which delves into issues of love, family, responsibility, belonging, finding your place in the world, and fighting the monsters you know d the ones you don't. The memoir has heartbreaking moments en soul-crushing ones at will make readers ache for young Grimes and teens grappling with similar circumstances. But inspiring moments bolster her raw, resonant story, showing that there is always light at the end of the darkest of tunnels.
Reading Level: 6.0
Interest Level: 7-12
Lexile: 840L
Guided Reading Level: Z+
Fountas & Pinnell: Z+

No one warned me
the world was full of
ordinary hazards
like closets with locks and keys.
I learned this lesson when Mom,
without her cousin to fall back on,
left us daily with
a succession of strangers
while she went to work.
One woman was indisputably
a demon in disguise,
full lips grinning slyly
as Mom waved goodbye
each morning.
"See you after work,"
Mom said that first day.
The second she was out of sight,
Demon's smile melted like
hot paraffin.
Snatching up Carol and me,
she dragged us, kicking, to
the bedroom closet.
She shoved us in, quick as the witch
in "Hansel and Gretel,"
jamming the key in the lock.
"You tattle to your mom about this," 
she growled, "I'll comeback
and beat the black off ya."
Deadly threat delivered,
she left for the day.

I screamed, my puny fists pounding the door
till Carol caught me by the wrists
and held me still. "Shhhh," she whispered.
"It's okay. I'm right here."
Once my breathing slowed,
Carol left me long enough
to navigate the darkness.
She found suitcases to sit on.  
Sniffling, I perched on the edge of one
 and pressed my fingertips together.
"Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep."
I repeated those words
like a chant.
I was three years old.
It was the only prayer I knew.
I should've prayed not to pee my pants.
The cramped and stuffy space 
made me wheeze.
Brass fittings on the Samsonite case
dug into the flesh
behind my knees.
But worse yet,
the occasional roach
skittered along my calf,
up a thigh,
and I would scratch
and stomp and cry
till it was off.
No one was around
to wipe away my tears, 
except my sister,
who had tears of her own.
Day after day,
the routine remained unchanged.
Demon locked us up in the morning,
then let us out and fed us just before
Mom came home from work.
Despite the witch's threat,
the minute Carol saw Mom, she poured out
the horrors of that first day,
but Mom waved her away
with a warning
to quit lying.
One afternoon,
when I thought
we'd live in the dark forever,
I heard what sounded like 
a familiar voice.
"Mommy?" I screamed,
afraid to believe.
But the lock turned,
the door flew open,
and I leaped into Mom's arms.
"My God!" she said.
"How long have you two
been in here?"
"All day," snapped Carol,
keeping her distance.
"I told you!
I told you,
but you called me a liar!"
The slap of words sent
Mom to her knees, please 
written all over her face.
"I'm so sorry," she whispered,
reaching for my sister.
Carol backed away.
"Jesus," Mom said. "What did
this woman do? Are you all right?"
Where to begin?
There were too many answers.
Even my big sister
lacked the language needed
for them all,
so we chose silence.
Besides, it was impossible to guess
which atrocities
Mom was
prepared to hear.
Thankfully, my sister and I
never laid eyes on that
bit of walking evil again. Still,
Demon lived inside us for years,
embedded in our twin fears
of the dark.

Excerpted from Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir by Nikki Grimes
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

A Michael L. Printz Honor Book
A Robert F. Sibert Informational Honor Book
Arnold Adoff Poetry Award for Teens

Six Starred Reviews -- ★Booklist ★BCCB ★The Horn Book ★Publishers Weekly ★School Library Connection ★Shelf Awareness

A Booklist Best Book for Youth * A BCCB Blue Ribbon * A Horn Book Fanfare Book * A Shelf Awareness Best Children's Book * Recommended on NPR's "Morning Edition" by Kwame Alexander

"This powerful story, told with the music of poetry and the blade of truth, will help your heart grow."--Laurie Halse Anderson, author of Speak and Shout

"[A] testimony and a triumph."--Jason Reynolds, author of Long Way Down

In her own voice, acclaimed author and poet Nikki Grimes explores the truth of a harrowing childhood in a compelling and moving memoir in verse.

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 those she trusted. At the age of six, she poured her pain onto a piece of paper late one night - and discovered the magic and impact of writing. For many years, Nikki's notebooks were her most enduing companions. In this accessible and inspiring memoir that will resonate with young readers and adults alike, Nikki shows how the power of those words helped her conquer the hazards - ordinary and extraordinary - of her life.

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