Book Review: My Name is Why

My Name is WhyTitle: My Name is Why by Lemn Sissay
Genre: Biography, Poetry
Pages: 212
Publisher: Canongate Books
Publication Date: 29th August 2020
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Rating: ★★★★½

At the age of seventeen, after a childhood in an adopted family followed by six years in care homes, Norman Greenwood was given his birth certificate. He learned that his real name was not Norman. It was Lemn Sissay. He was British and Ethiopian. And he learned that his mother had been pleading for his safe return to her since his birth. Here Sissay recounts his life story.

When I pick up a biography, it is rarely by someone I know of; I much prefer unravelling a complete stranger’s journey, and discovering new lives to root for.

On this occasion, unfamiliar with Lemn Sissay’s previous work, I was swayed into reading My Name is Why by that striking title, and my curiosity to read a story about the government being up to no good.

Turns out, it ended up being one of the most interesting biographies I read last year, and revealed a dark underbelly to social services that I never knew existed. My curiosity was piqued for sure, and I was gripped by the author’s recollection of how he was taken unwillingly from his mother and left to suffer in foster care.

Commenting on the paperwork that was filed during his time in foster care, My Name is Why reads like a researcher or investigator analysing evidence. I can’t imagine what he must have felt to have read about his life through other people’s observations, like a rat in a research lab.  Especially knowing some of those observations weren’t even true, and yet moved his life in unwanted directions at the time.

The author’s pain in writing the book is so evident, and it isn’t hard to understand where his anger and frustration stems from. Being let down by the people whose duty it is to protect you – it hurts as a reader to see how he was truly failed by the system. It was very thought-provoking, and has made me want to read more books about the foster system.

Since reading his book, I’ve moved back through Lemn Sissay’s work, and explored his poetry and website. I found this post about the impending publication of this very book, and the heart-warming comments are so touching. I’m glad as an adult that the author has found a solid support network and has become successful despite the obstacles he faced.

A very sad and inspiring book, but one I think everyone should read.

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*I received a copy of this book for free to review from NetGalley, however all thoughts are honest and my own.