Last Updated on January 27, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 886
Kiese Laymon is the author and narrator of the memoir. Born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, Laymon attends mostly religious schools as an adolescent, going on to attend Millsaps College after graduation. After being expelled from Millsaps, he attends and graduates from Oberlin College and later completes his Masters in Fine Arts from Indiana University in Bloomington. Laymon writes in his memoir of his experiences as a young boy struggling with his weight, as well as the impact of racism on his life and that of his family members and friends. Laymon’s internal battles with food parallel the external battles he faces as a black man living in a world that often tries to degrade and diminish black people.
Laymon’s mother is the person to whom Laymon addresses his entire memoir, much of which is resultantly written in the second person. Fiery and brilliant, she has high standards and lofty ambitions for her son. Unfortunately, her passionate nature often gets the best of her and she beats her son, feeling justified by her strategy to toughen him up for the unjust world in which they live—one that is dominated by white people. At the start of the memoir, she is working on her PhD, and she goes on to receive postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Maryland and Harvard University. Laymon’s mother is also addicted to gambling, and throughout the memoir, she is constantly borrowing money or asking Kiese for money for various expenses. At the end of the memoir, they confront one another at a casino and discuss the ills of their relationship.
Grandmama is Laymon’s grandmother. She helps Kiese’s mother raise Laymon, and he has a close relationship with her. She also lives in Mississippi and works as a housekeeper for a white family. Though Grandmama sometimes whips young Kiese with a belt, she is more gentle with him than his mother. Laymon’s trust in her is demonstrated by the safety he feels while sharing her bed as a child, a safety he doesn’t know anywhere else.
Malachi Hunter is a real estate agent in Jackson and Kiese’s mother’s lover. He considers himself to be a revolutionary, but, according to Laymon, he is primarily interested in wealth and power. Malachi is sometimes physically abusive to Kiese’s mother, and when she moves on from their relationship with another man, she is frightened of his anger. When Kiese is in college at Millsaps, Hunter tries to give him advice regarding Kiese’s provocative articles in the school newspaper.
LaThon Simmons is a childhood friend of Kiese’s. They attend the same Catholic schools, play basketball together, and get in trouble with their teachers at the same time. LaThon and Kiese develop their own vocabulary that enables them to speak encouragingly to each other in times of stress. When LaThon realizes that he is unlikely to become a professional basketball player, he decides to become an engineer.
Abby Claremont is Kiese’s first girlfriend. Early on in their relationship, she tells him that she loves him, but sometimes their relationship becomes tense when issues around race come up. Because Abby is white, they keep their relationship a secret, but Kiese’s basketball coach tells his mother. Laymon’s mother beats him when she finds out he is in a sexual relationship with Abby, in large part because she is white. They stay...
(The entire section contains 886 words.)
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