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Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son: A Memoir Hardcover – August 15, 2006

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 267 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (August 15, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807071463
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807071465
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,906,449 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This rags-to-riches story, about growing up poor and eventually reaching Harvard has bite and pathos. The youngest son of a born-again Southern Baptist preacher originally from Massachusetts, and a mother from Appalachian Tennessee, Jennings led an itinerant youth among trailer parks in Southern towns where his dad would try to find work. The boy couldn't make his father proud on the football field, and already he had learned that "being a real man meant taking advantage of anyone smaller or weaker than you." With his father's abrupt death when Jennings was eight, he became a "mama's boy," introverted, brainy and overweight, and ridden by guilt at his incipient homosexuality. Supported by his scarcely educated mother, who became the first woman manager at McDonald's, Jennings excelled in school and on the debate team and was accepted to Harvard by 1981. Jennings became a high-school teacher, at Concord Academy among others, agonizing over the decision to out himself; he promoted the creation of GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) to protect students from the kind of harassment he experienced firsthand. When his national crusade brought him back home to speak at the same Winston-Salem school system where his "young soul had almost been crushed," Jennings writes of his journey with graciousness and candor. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

When hospitalized in 1966 with whooping cough--a consequence of his family's extreme poverty, which excluded vaccinations, insurance, and even a doctor until the three-year-old's fever exceeded 102 degrees--Jennings almost died. Buoyed by his Appalachian mother's steel will, he returned to the family's two-bedroom trailer and recovered, but fighting for life left him feeling different and vulnerable, and his mother overprotective. Hence, he became a mama's boy. As for his fundamentalist--preacher dad, he cared only about God and sports, worked construction jobs--and dropped dead at Jennings' eighth-birthday party. He grew up gay with athletic brothers in a sports-mad family ("a white-trash version of the Kennedys") amid a culture that forbade homosexuality. After 12 years "of isolation and sadness" in public schools, he went to Harvard on a scholarship and discovered new freedoms, but he re-closeted himself when he went home to teach. After two years, he left, marched with his partner for gay rights in 1987, and eventually spearheaded efforts to make schools safer for gay kids. A refreshingly readable memoir. Whitney Scott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

I highly recommend this book as high school classroom reading.
Jessica Lux
And the book makes one realize how fortunate we are to have Kevin along with many others in this country fighting homophobia for our future generations.
R. Hoyer
The book is sad, but incredibly the writer makes it funny as well.
Happy and Proud

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Lester Brown on July 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Very few books I've read have touched me as deeply as Kevin Jenning's book "Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son." The author does an excellent job hooking the reader in with descriptions of life growing up in the South, with feelings of not being "normal."

From the depths of despair in a childhood gone wrong, Kevin managed to form an idea of how to change the climate in schools, and make them a better place for kids to learn. The things he went through as a student trying to get an education and putting up with bullying and harassment are amazing, and incredibly sad. This book should be required reading for teachers entering the field, so they understand why bullying and harassment isn't just "kids being kids" and can cause significant and lasting damage to the victims.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Bob Drake VINE VOICE on November 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One might expect the life of a gay son of a Southern minister to be miserable and brief, but this one is truly inspirational, both because of the quality of the son, and of the extraordinary tenacity of his uneducated but street-smart mother. Jennings has a memory for and eye for detail that is astonishing. Anyone who believes that homosexuality is a "lifestyle choice" should be convinced otherwise by this memoir, though some will be troubled by Jennings' brazen attitude during his Harvard years. My experience with teaching at a "private school" paralleled his -- not the place for a liberal-minded person with an independent streak. One has to admire the man Jennings became and appreciate the strength required to get there.
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By John S. Wilson on March 17, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I thought this book was very moving. I couldn't relate to the growing up poor part but I certainly connected to the growing up gay part.
I was particularly impressed with the descriptions of how the author perservered through some of his most challenging times fighting the homophobia in the different schools.
Personally I had a hard time imagining myself in the same situations being so brave and committed to doing the right thing.
I would highly recommend this book to any person working in the education system who would like to make a difference.
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9 of 14 people found the following review helpful By W. M. Dix on January 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The post-college years, especially those at Concord Academy, are the most interesting in terms of Kevin's personal development. Having been a gay teacher at al all-boys boarding school in the 80s, I was especially involved in his narratives regarding how he gradually revealed himself to his students and then had to fight with the administration to achieve some level of recognition and comfort, a fight that ultimately failed. My own way of finally coming out was to start teaching As Is, a gay-themed play, in my theater class. Although that was a big moment for me (and one I cleared with my department head first), I found out much later, as Kevin did, that the students all pretty much knew I was gay anyway. Students really are a lot more perceptive than we give them credit for. Reading about the growth of the student gay-straight alliance and Kevin's wrestling with how to advise them will be compelling reading to any teacher, gay or straight, who has wanted to help students with their questions about sexual orientation but who have experienced their own doubts and worries about what that entails.

I sense that Kevin's book has been edited to create almost a straight line from childhood to GLSEN, as if it were somehow foreordained. It comes off as a bit artificial, a bit too trimmed of any incidents that, while they may have added something to our understanding of Kevin's personality, didn't directly lead toward where he is today. It is more reportage than memoir, and for that I'm sorry because it's clear that Kevin has done an extraordinary job as a teacher and leader. I wish I had been as courageous with my students as he was, although I like to think that in some small ways I was.
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Format: Paperback
Kevin Jennings grew up as a preacher's son (the son of a Southern Baptist Minister) and a mama's boy (more interested in intellectual pursuits than athletics). This memoir is not merely the story of a homosexual boy in the Deep South living below the poverty line. Jennings's personal struggles with family and community acceptance are neither extreme nor representative of the majority. The strength of Jennings's life story lies in the experiences and incidents which led to his career as an activist. The author is able to portray the gradual development of his adult activist spirit, so far removed from the boy who lived in fear of school and his classmates.

As a reader, I especially enjoyed the story of young Kevin's black sister-in-law. His decade-older brother came back from military service with (gasp!) a black wife. They were exiled from the family and community and moved to the Northeast. Kevin had been raised to believe that the KKK, while not a part of his immediate family, did good for the whites in the South. He was ingrained with beliefs about scourge of the blacks in the South. He had extreme anxiety about visiting his brother and sister-in-law, but when he arrived at their house, he learned first-hand what a lovely woman Claudette was, and they quickly became friends and confidantes. Kevin's earliest moment of activism was introducing Claudette to all the family members at a funeral, and ensuring that they all shook her hand and talked politely with her, despite her outsider status.

Kevin Jennings was the first member of his family to go to college, but the family was disappointed that he chose a profession as un-important and un-manly a teaching.
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