Today’s post comes with some trigger warnings for both our discussion and our book choice. Please be prepared for topics such as rape, sexual assault, mental illness, abusive relationships, poverty, and racism.
Our book this week is the beautifully powerful Grown by Tiffany Jackson. It’s a story loosely inspired by R. Kelly’s very public trials and allegations; as is a theme for Jackson’s writing. It also mirrors experiences that she herself went through in her past. As per her many interviews about this piece, Grown is Jackson’s challenge against the idea that childhood is lost too soon and humans are asked to grow up too early. Here is the official description for Jackson’s latest masterpiece:
“Korey Fields is dead.
When Enchanted Jones wakes with blood on her hands and zero memory of the previous night, no one—the police and Korey’s fans included—has more questions than she does. All she really knows is that this isn't how things are supposed to be. Korey was Enchanted’s ticket to stardom.
Before there was a dead body, Enchanted was an aspiring singer, struggling with her tight knit family’s recent move to the suburbs while trying to find her place as the lone Black girl in high school. But then legendary R&B artist Korey Fields spots her at an audition. And suddenly her dream of being a professional singer takes flight.
Enchanted is dazzled by Korey’s luxurious life but soon her dream turns into a nightmare. Behind Korey’s charm and star power hides a dark side, one that wants to control her every move, with rage and consequences. Except now he’s dead and the police are at the door. Who killed Korey Fields?
All signs point to Enchanted.”
E: First off, this cover is gorgeous. It had me instantly putting it in my TBR pile. Once I read the summary, I was a little nervous. It's a book with a lot of potential triggers for me, and I wasn't sure I was ready to dive into it. Its a book that's brutally honest and raw -leaving no stone unturned in the realm of rape culture. The book is about a young Black girl who loves to sing. She is discovered by a famous rapper (seemingly a dream come true) who promises her fame and fortune. There is a large age gap between Enchanted and Korey - nearly 10 years and it had me cringing in my seat.
A: Same here. I was seeing Grown all over the place especially through Nic Stone’s instagram and other author talks. But the subject matter also made me cringe as I was (and still am) dealing with my own mental health after an abusive relationship with a guy were we were around the same age difference as the one between Enchanted and Korey. While the situation didn't turn out as severe, there were many similarities that were hard to read.
E: The thing that got me through it was actually the beginning-- we know Korey dies. Therefore, we can only imagine that everything will turn out alright for Enchanted in the end. I know for some the age gap may not have been enough of a red flag, but it quickly shows the power struggle and just how vulnerable a 17 year old girl is. This guy has fame, influence, and the power that comes from being male.
A: And the wealth. Enchanted didn’t come from a wealthy family at all. There is something about being taken advantage of by someone and the fear of speaking up because they could easily afford to ruin you with lawyers and a “he said/ she said” situation. The fame and influence really doesn’t help the matter but one thing that I really found in both Enchanted and my situations is the use of technology as a power tool. We both started out willing in the situation and then it turned on us but they had the proof of texts et cetera that show a willing participation.
E: I’m so sorry Ash. I can definitely emphasize and understand your past. That’s one thing the author showcased well: how it happens in steps, and it becomes a slippery slope and before you know it you find yourself in a situation you never imagined was possible.
E: Korey’s manipulation turns to kidnapping, exploitation, emotional/sexual abuse and cuts her off from her family and friends. The most horrifying thing about the book is that it is by no means a stretch that this could happen in real life. The gaslighting, the abuse, the trauma is something so many girls and women face daily around the world. This book specifically touches on abuse that happens to people of colour, and vulnerable people who come from poverty.
A: It is insane how targeted a lot of people who find themselves in this situation are. And how innocent it starts out to be before it snowballs. People of colour and those who come from poverty are maybe the easiest targets because of the general view that society has on them. I love that Jackson makes that point but also adds in young girls who are white and from middle class backgrounds to show that it isn’t just the Black community that can be targeted. That working towards the goal of stopping these situations from happening in general are helping the entire human race, not just one community.
E: This story is more than just a man abusing a girl; it's about how the whole system fails them. The entertainment industry as well as society turns its back on these issues and acts of violence over and over.
A: I actually recently listened to a great episode of Sophia Bush’s podcast “Work In Progress” with Natalie Portman and they discussed this point so well. Natalie was saying that when she first started to get involved with the Me Too movement, she didn’t think she had any stories to tell. Then as more people started to share their stories, she realized that she had hundreds of similar stories. But that she had been conditioned to believe that situations like this are normal when they aren’t. It is interesting to think about all the words said to us or the looks that we get and how we have been conditioned to just ignore them or literally believe that “boys will be boys”.
E: Agreed! I myself experienced sexual trauma when I was 13 and it took me until I was 17 to realize that’s what it was. I just assumed back then that because I didn’t speak out, or because I said no and was met with “It’ll be the last time” that I was somehow giving consent.
A: When people are younger and aren’t taught exactly what is considered to be wrong, it is hard to speak up because you don’t realize it. Something I heard from Karamo Brown really works for this situation... we are told to avoid “pedophiles” but we aren’t told what constitutes as one. It could be someone we know and are told to trust or it could be the really good looking music star. There is no “look” to one, it is about the behaviour and we aren’t always told what behaviour is actually “wrong” behaviour and even then, it’s completely subjective to the person who is experiencing it. At a young age, we don’t always know how to speak up to say “this feels wrong” because we are in that molding stage that someone can say “actually no, it’s ok don’t worry about it” or “ok, this will be the last time” and we go along with it.
E: Even though I found this book really hard to read, it's important to read it and talk about it. It's showing readers the inequality that's currently in place and that we need to incorporate real change in our culture.
A: Amen!!! And only by speaking out about these situations and showing what they really look like can we make a change. I applaud Tiffany for putting this part of her soul out there and letting us see into her situation. It’s one step in the healing process and in the right direction.
E: The book is a quick read, and as a result of that the story itself isn't totally developed and fleshed out. There was quite a bit of back and forth about her sanity and I found it confusing at times. As well, it got a bit confusing with the book going back and forth in time. It would have been nice if there were a few more details and explanations given especially towards the conclusion.
A: I actually will be honest and say that I found that the back and forth about her sanity made total sense to me. It reflected how I felt during my similar situation to a tee. I was constantly questioning my own sanity and if my gut feelings were correct or an over reaction. And I had outside influences doing the same thing to me between the man in question and even my family. It also felt really true to form that we weren’t given all the details and explanations. Not everyone is going to get a full understanding of what happened to them when these situations happen in real life and there will always be questions.
E: This is a very hard book to read, and I strongly recommend readers only do so if they feel they can handle the subject matter. Even though it is an important topic, your own individual wellbeing is what's most important. Sometimes there can be pressure to subject ourselves to horrifying stories so that we can be part of the conversation. It is okay to take a step back and protect your mental health. It does not mean that you do not care or empathize with the situation.
A: And if you decide to pick it up and can’t get through it because it is too much… don’t feel the pressure to continue. While I could get through this particular book, I couldn’t get through My Dark Vanessa even though everyone has been raving about it. Our mental health is number one priority.
If you or someone you know is struggling, remember that there are health authorities who are there to help you. Find the number for your local mental health hotline, talk to someone you trust, or see what counselling options are available to you. Talking is one step to recovery and there is always someone there to help you. You are never fully alone.