A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Shows a glimpse of life in the foster care system, what life can be like with an alcoholic, mentally ill parent, and life in the 1950s and '60s, including New York's vibrant African American literary and music scene. Also shows how reading books can be a refuge in hard times, how writing can help you get through hard times and heal from trauma.
Grimes writes, "That place of light -- it's not always easy to get there, but it's there. It's there." Writing can help you heal and move forward.
Positive Role Models
Young Nikki Grimes had every possible odd stacked against her: chaotic (sometimes violent) childhood, mother consumed by mental illness and alcoholism, bouts of asthma, years spent in foster homes, a series of new schools. But when she begins to write (and keeps writing), she finds a place where she can make sense of her life, a place of "words that kept me moving forward." Grimes has one loving foster family, reconnects with her father, who supports her and her writing, and when she moves to a new school, finds friends who encourage her. Her father introduces her to New York's African American literary and music worlds.
Violence & Scariness
When Grimes' mother passes out drunk, her stepfather comes into her room and rapes her. Some phrases used to describe the assault are graphic: "I woke to find my legs parted and Clark's tongue exploring where no tongue had ever been." A woman is hit in the head with an iron. A foster parent whips Grimes, a babysitter locks her in a closet for hours at a time, girl gang members burn her with a cigarette and cut her with a knife.
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Infrequent uses of "hell," "s--t," "damn," and "bastard." A friend's father calls Grimes the "N" word.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Her mother is an alcoholic, sometimes disappearing for days, leaving her children alone and uncared for. She sees her cousins shooting up drugs, and a foster brother drinks and does drugs.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Coretta Scott King Honor Award-wining author and poet Nikki Grimes' Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir was named a 2020 Michael J. Printz Honor Book. Written in free verse, it follows Grimes as she grows up in the 1950s and 1960s with a mother battling paranoid schizophrenia and alcoholism and a mostly absent musician father. She begins writing at age 6, finding words to be a place she can pour out her anger, fears, and hopes. She has stays in foster homes (one violent), safe years with a loving foster family, and turbulent years back with her mother and her new husband, who rapes her when she's 13. Eventually, there's reconciliation with her father, who introduces her to New York City's vibrant African American literary and musical world. Grimes deals with violence throughout her childhood. She's whipped by a foster parent and attacked by girl gang members. Some of the lines in "Broken," the poem that describes her rape, are graphic. While a memoir in free verse may sound intimidating to some readers, Grimes' story is so simply and compellingly told that once teens begin reading, they'll find it almost impossible to put down.
Is It Any Good?
This raw, haunting, and often heartbreaking memoir shows the power of words to inspire, heal, and transform even in the darkest of times. While most readers will find the Ordinary Hazards Grimes recounts anything but ordinary, the poems present even her most traumatizing memories with a calm, straightforward simplicity, so they never seem overwhelming.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.