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I'm Perfect, You're Doomed: Tales from a Jehovah's Witness Upbringing Hardcover – March 3, 2009
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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From Publishers Weekly
When Abrahams was growing up, her world was neatly divided between those who would live forever in a paradise on earth and all the "worldly" people her Jehovah's Witness family prayed for. Her congregation forbade Christmas and Halloween, aggressively shunned anyone who left the fold and taught children that birthday parties were of the devil. For kicks in her early teens, Abrahams would go witnessing door-to-door with her pal Lisa, a die-hard J-Dub. This acerbic, witty memoir chronicles the first 23 years of Abraham's life with candor and a good dose of comedy. Unlike other memoirs written by the disenchanted, Abrahams musters some affection for her decent but screwed-up family, and even for the religion itself. Where the story hits a rough patch is in her account of her late teens and early 20s, when she dropped out of high school; rushed into a disastrous teen marriage; fell into alcohol, drugs and adultery; and finally "fired Jehovah as [her] personal bodyguard" and became an apostate divorcée. None of this is particularly funny, and Abrahams's tale of self-destruction ends abruptly enough that readers will wonder how she managed to pull herself together. (Mar. 3)
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*Starred Review* Given that Abrahams is now a stand-up comic and spoken-word poet, it makes perfect sense to begin her very funny memoir with her performance debut at the Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Kingdom Hall, at age 8 (her presentation was about freedom from demon possession). She describes the children’s books she read as a child as a cross between “Dr. Seuss rhymes and tales of how sinners would scream and gnash their teeth at Armageddon.” In her world, Smurfs were “little blue demons” and yard sales were enticements from Satan. As a bored teenager with OCD, she didn’t know what to do with herself or how to make sense of the world. On the verge of 18, she married a 24-year-old part-time college math teacher because, even if his interest in her was, at best, halfhearted, she wanted a boyfriend and didn’t know any other Jehovah’s Witnesses who liked her. Anyway, she reasons, “this is what adults did, and I was an adult.” It wasn’t long before she longed to be out of the marriage. Between threats of suicide, she tried to be “disfellowshipped,” or shunned, by her congregation, which proved surprisingly difficult to accomplish. Abrahams is a natural writer whose prose flows effortlessly as she easily mixes throwaway humor and painful memories in a compelling narrative. --June Sawyers
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This is one odd bunch of believers, convinced that demons are ready to pop up out of the sock drawer if you let your guard down. Kyria Abrahams has invited us in for coffee with the folks, so to speak. Her book is warm and funny, and her family, it turns out, isn't any weirder than most of our weird families. Oh, they're different all right, but whose family doesn't have quirks? Kyria's folks believe that they and 144,000 of their brethren are going to ascend to that big rock candy mountain in the sky one day. Yep, heaven comes with happy talking leopards and ice cream rivers and all manner of wonders. What about the billions of us who don't believe? We're gonna get siezed by the topknot and heaved into cauldrons of flaming doodoo. That is not, by the way, a metaphor. It means, literally, a fiery pit of poop. This does seem somewhat harsh because, after all, up to ones hairline in flames OR doodoo seems sufficient. Both is a little overachieving if you ask me.
This is a fascinating look in the kitchen window at a way of life most of us will never get to experience. A good, fast read. And it will tempt you to open the door next time the doorbell rings and someone wants to know if you have accepted Jehovah.
Warning personal anecdote coming up: Once upon a time, I had a black (and black-hearted), green-eyed, half-Siamese and somewhat demented cat. His name was Basil (because he was a pesto). Anyway, Basil took it upon himself to guard the front door and growl at strangers. One day a large group of JWs came calling. They knocked, so I opened the door and said, "Come in, please...just ignore the Anti-Christ, he has no manners." I did not know that Jehovah's witnesses considered cats to be demons in disguise, honest. They took one look at that evil little face (cat's, not mine) and turned tail and ran. En masse. Not stopping to gather up the kids or the elderly. Basil was in hot demonic pursuit making noises like the sound a doomed soul makes when it hits a heated hell turd. There was a moment of sheer panic when the horde got caught up in the rose arbor, but they made it out and thundered down the street, my tiny beelzebub on their heels.
They never came back...in fact, the neighbors on either side were also spared further visits. I always wondered if I was in their computers as "smart ass" or "harborer of Satan." And just to clear things up, if any members of the faith are reading this, the kitty was not the anti-Christ, okay. That would be my parrot, Wendell.
I am no authority on Jehovah's Witnesses, though my general impression, from what exposure which I have had to those of that faith, is that Kyria had a relatively liberal home life for a member. I did not receive an impression of deep religious convictions on her part or that of her family - it seemed more as if they'd somehow fallen into religious practise which they found sustaining but burdensome. It would have been easier to sympathise with the odd thinking, condemnation of others, and (rather irritating) need to remind acquaintances of, for example, the prohibition on celebrating holidays except that Kyria presents herself as exceedingly self-centred, and it seems that her religious practise was an emphasis more for attention than conviction.
Most of the action is very tragic (not the stuff of nightmares, but a sad presentation of someone with multiple mental disorders, in a home where children are not neglected but the parents despise one another.) Though the apparent theme is that Kyria's being a Jehovah's Witness was behind the severe problems, there is no clear connection - if anything, the extremes in practise seem to exacerbate, but to hardly be the cause of, deep seated disorders. Kyria makes many references to her obsessive compulsive disorder, cutting herself with razors and the like, and her family and friends seem very adaptable and accommodating in most of their response.
I did not find this book to be revealing about Jehovah's Witnesses, for all that this is supposed to be an exposé of their practise and development of a theme of how excessive religious beliefs were damaging. It seemed more to be a saga of a struggle with mental illnesses, and a cycle of placing blame on others. For all the rich humour in the author's style, the overall presentation is only of average quality.