Survival of the Thickest: Essays by Michelle Buteau Book Review

Author Information

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 10: Michelle Buteau attends the 2019 Glamour Women Of The Year Summit at Alice Tully Hall on November 10, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Glamour)

Michelle Buteau was born on July 24, 1977 in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, USA. She is an actress and writer, known for Always Be My Maybe (2019), Happiest Season (2020) and Isn’t It Romantic (2019). She has been married to Gijs van der Most since July 31, 2010. They have two children.

Book Description

If you’ve watched television or movies in the past year, you’ve seen Michelle Buteau. With scene-stealing roles in Always Be My MaybeFirst Wives ClubSomeone GreatRussian Doll, and Tales of the City; a reality TV show and breakthrough stand-up specials, including her headlining show Welcome to Buteaupia on Netflix, and two podcasts (Late Night Whenever and Adulting), Michelle’s star is on the rise. You’d be forgiven for thinking the road to success—or adulthood or financial stability or self-acceptance or marriage or motherhood—has been easy; but you’d be wrong.

Now, in Survival of the Thickest, Michelle reflects on growing up Caribbean, Catholic, and thick in New Jersey, going to college in Miami (where everyone smells like pineapple), her many friendship and dating disasters, working as a newsroom editor during 9/11, getting started in standup opening for male strippers, marrying into her husband’s Dutch family, IVF and surrogacy, motherhood, chosen family, and what it feels like to have a full heart, tight jeans, and stardom finally in her grasp.

Review

Thank you to Libro.fm for the advanced listening copy of this book in exchange for my review.

Thoughts and Themes: This review is a little different from my others because this book is different from what I usually read. For non-fiction books there really is no commenting on characters because there is none especially in a memoir. I love every memoir by a comedian that I have read to this date because they have the humor in each portion of their memoir, even in the moments that are meant to be sad.

I love how this book is separated into different essays that talk about different portions and aspects of Michelle’s life. I really enjoy reading memoirs from comedians when I don’t know them because the memoir tends to make me want to watch their acts. I only got through two of the essays and am already loving it and can’t wait to listen to the whole thing. I’m so interested in hearing more of this book and learning more about her through this book.

There are so many moments that I was just laughing or having to pause because my mom walked past and there was some inappropriate language. I don’t mind that but I don’t want my mom to question my reading choices, lol. I want to comment on each essay that is included in this book but then this review would go on forever.

I love that Michelle talks about the real things and doesn’t sugar coat anything. I really like her essay “Survival of the Thickest ” and its commentary on what we tell Big girls. I liked how she talks about what it is like to have a larger body as a child and how she was treated. She doesn’t go easy on this topic and she lays out her feelings right on those pages. I love how she talks about the shops that make her feel like worthy. I could go on and on on the relatability of this chapter.

There are so many other essays in this book that I really enjoy, I really liked the commentary that she made on the Catholic church. I related so much to this and loved what her stance was and how she kept her friends a part of the whole ceremony even if her family would’ve preferred otherwise.

Something that I think people may have issues with is that she brings her humor to even the hardest moments of her life. I think when reading you need to understand that this is the way she is comfortable with sharing this very intimate parts of herself with you as the reader. I was very appreciative of the fact that she was willing to share these moments with us.

Who’s Your Daddy Book Tour Post

Thank You to Poetic Book Tours for allowing me to be on this book tour to let others know about this book coming out March 2021.

Author Description

ARISA WHITE is a Cave Canem fellow, Sarah Lawrence College alumna, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of the poetry chapbooks Disposition for Shininess, Post Pardon, Black Pearl, Perfect on Accident, and “Fish Walking” & Other Bedtime Stories for My Wife won the inaugural Per Diem Poetry Prize. Published by Virtual Artists Collective, her debut full-length collection, Hurrah’s Nest, was a finalist for the 2013 Wheatley Book Awards, 82nd California Book Awards, and nominated for a 44th NAACP Image Awards. Her second collection, A Penny Saved, inspired by the true-life story of Polly Mitchell, was published by Willow Books, an imprint of Aquarius Press in 2012. Her latest full-length collection, You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, was published by Augury Books and nominated for the 29th Lambda Literary Awards. Most recently, Arisa co-authored, with Laura Atkins, Biddy Mason Speaks Up, a middle-grade biography in verse on the midwife and philanthropist Bridget “Biddy” Mason, which is the second book in the Fighting for Justice series. She is currently co-editing, with Miah Jeffra and Monique Mero, the anthology Home is Where You Queer Your Heart, which will be published by Foglifter Press in 2021. And forthcoming in February 2021, from Augury Books, her poetic memoir Who’s Your Daddy.

Book Description

Who’s Your Daddy is a lyrical genre-bending coming-of-age tale featuring a young, queer, black Guyanese American woman who, while seeking to define her own place in the world, negotiates an estranged relationship with her father.

Who’s Your Daddy?, a hybrid memoir combining poetry and creative nonfiction, is a meditation on paternal absences, intergenerational trauma, and toxic masculinity. Who’s Your Daddy? asks us to consider how the relationships we are born into can govern us, even through absence, and shape the dynamics we find and forge as we grow. White lyrically moves across distance and time, from Brooklyn to California to Guyana. Her book enacts rituals that plumb the interior reaches of the heart to assemble disconnected and estranged parts into something whole, tender, and strong. 

Review

Thoughts and Themes: This review was a little difficult to write as this type of story telling is one that I had not read before. I have read memoirs in the past but I had not read one that used the methods that this book has used. I really liked the way that this book makes you think about how relationships dictate so many aspects of our lives as we watch relationships change the narrative in this memoir.

Something that I really like about the way that this story is being told is how it feels like a conversation with someone. This memoir feels like the narrator is sitting down to tell you this story which made it so that this story felt a lot more relatable.

Characters: There is one main character throughout this book even as she talks about others that come along in her journey. The main character is the same person who is narrating this story and it was nice to be able to connect to the story teller in a different method.

Writing Style: I really enjoyed how each poem is kept on a separate page so that the story flows really well. I thought that the choice to have a portion of the first sentence in bold was a great way to give you a glance at what the focus of this poem was going to be. I thought that this was an interesting way to write a memoir and really liked the way that poetry was combined with creative nonfiction.

I recommend this to those of you who enjoy reading memoirs and may want a new way of reading them.

Hollywood Park ARC Book Review

Thoughts: Thank you to Celadon Books for the advanced copy of this book in exchange for my review.

Memoirs are a little difficult to review as I can’t really rate them on their characters or the plot. It isn’t as if those are features that could have been changed in the person’s life. What I can talk about though is the writing style and the way the story is told.

This memoir is split up into four parts each one documenting a different portion of Mike’s life. Each of these different parts are written with a distinguishable tone which is quite enjoyable.

Escape: This portion of the memoir tells you the story of Synanon and what it was like for Mikel and his brother to live there. This portion is told through the eyes of a very young, naive child who is still learning about the world. You start to get an idea about the relationships that Mikel has with others and the role that certain people play in his life.

Oregon: This portion of the book changes tones and it is like Mikel has suddenly matured and grown wiser. He is still a child and there is so much left for him to learn but often times he plays the role of an adult. In this portion of the book Mikel gets to know his father and that side of his family which changes his personality and his relationship with others. I really enjoy this portion of the book as we learn more about Mikel and start to see some changes for him. This is the point in which Mikel feels as if he is responsible for taking care of his mother and you see him grow up much quicker than a child should have to.

California: This portion of the book where there is a major shift for all of the characters as Mike goes to live with his dad and his dad’s partner in California. There is a major shift in Mike’s behavior at this point in the book as he becomes a teenager and wants to be accepted by his brother. The tone in this portion shifts as we are now hearing this story from a teen rather than a child.

This is the portion of the book that I felt told most of the story and where the story really picks up. This was the portion of the book that kept me reading and really wanting to know what happened to Mikel and his family. I liked how the tone gradually shifts throughout this section of the book as Mikel grows up physically and also mentally. The end of this section is where I put down the book to have all my feelings.

Hollywood Park: In this part of the book Mikel grows up and away from his past. The tone of the book drastically shifts and sounds like a mature young adult telling his story. He walks you through his time in college as he learns about his past and makes sense of his life. I enjoy how this portion is told and how you feel Mikel’s emotions along with him. I like how he walks you through his thought process as he figures everything out.

Overall: I really enjoy how the majority of this book is told through the perspective of a child. The story reads as if a child is recalling these events as best as he can. I really enjoy that because it is as if the story is happening real time. While the story is being told as a child, I like that as the child grows older so does the narrator. You can feel the shift in age and also in mindset as things occur throughout the book.

Something else that I liked is how the story is told in chronological order and doesn’t jump around. I like the way each chapter is organized around a specific point in time or a specific event. It was also helpful that each section had a different tone and the narrators language shifted. I liked that you could track the time passing as things happened.

You can get this book at Eso Won Books or look for it at your local library.