A cynic or a scholar might say that it is tellingly colonialist that the only way I can think to describe This Is Us is in terms of consumption, and yet it is true.
This Is Us is delicious, a banquet by small bites- tiny tastes of the richest flavors. The nature of this collection allows for the most incredible pairings, a teenager’s dreams, hopes, and heartbreaks followed immediately by a grandmother’s experiences arriving in London in the 1960s, followed by a woman in her 30s struggle to define herself in spaces that do not recognize her.
There is sisterhood and love and betrayal, generational acceptance and distance, family both by blood and by bond all written in the pages of This Is Us. Chapters are loosely organized by theme: something along the lines of sexuality, self-acceptance, finding your voice, romantic relationships, friendships, faith, etc. but the these are my names for them- there are no formal title cards, and rightly so. Most of the essays fit into more than one of these named categories, and the correlations I have identified could well be arbitrary, or completely different from the intent of Kafayat Okanlawon, the self-described “curator” of this text.
I like that Okanlawon describes herself as a curator, rather than taking the more traditional “editor” title that we are used to seeing with essay collections or anthologies. A simple word choice, but it elevates the pieces; essays, poems, memoirs and reflections, to the art that they are.
Because they are art.
The best art depicts life through a unique perspective.
It takes the familiar frame of the world and tilts the camera, showing us the new, the unexpected, and the (yes, we’re back to food) delicious perspective of the artist.
For another reader, with another family history, another hometown, and another skin color, the stories contained in This Is Us might be familiar. A reflection of her life and experiences, a validation of everything she is, has been, and will grow to be.
For me, This Is Us is a tilting point. A changing point for my understanding of the human condition. It details experiences with institutions and individuals that are largely outside my, white girl raised in small-town Texas, frame of reference.
Change isn’t always comfortable.
But art shouldn’t always be comfortable, and change is good.
This Is Us is not just an enjoyable read, it is a necessary book. Necessary for readers of every shade and level. Necessary in the way that eating is- for both sustenance, and for pleasure.
5/5, will read again.