Ordinary Hazards
by Grimes, Nikki

"Growing up with a mother suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and a mostly absent father, Nikki Grimes found herself terrorized by babysitters, shunted from foster family to foster family, and preyed upon by those she trusted. At the age of six, she poured her pain onto a piece of paper late one night - and discovered the magic and impact of writing. For many years, Nikki's notebooks were her most enduing companions. In this accessible and inspiring memoir that will resonate with young readers and adults alike, Nikki shows how the power of those words helped her conquer the hazards - ordinary and extraordinary - of her life"-Amazon.

New York Times bestselling author Nikki Grimes is the recipient of the 2020 ALAN Award for outstanding contributions to young adult literature, the 2017 Children's Literature Legacy Award, the 2016 Virginia Hamilton Literary Award, and the 2006 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. Her distinguished works include the much-honored books Garvey's Choice, ALA Notable book Southwest Sunrise, Coretta Scott King Award winner Bronx Masquerade, and five Coretta Scott King Author Honor books, Printz and Siebert Honor winner Ordinary Hazards, Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor One Last Word, its companion Legacy:Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance, and NYT Bestseller Kamala Harris:Rooted in Justice. Creator of the popular Meet Danitra Brown, Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel, Bedtime for Sweet Creatures, and Off to See the Sea, Grimes lives in Corona, California. Visit nikkigrimes.com.

*Starred Review* With Ordinary Hazards, Grimes delivers a memoir in the form of a powerful and inspiring collection of poems. She details her early life through adulthood, and she unabashedly explores the highs as well as the lows. Grimes' struggle with a mother suffering from mental illness, an absent father, and an abusive stepfather plunged her life into turmoil at an early age. Yet through it all, she persevered and used writing as an outlet for her pain. She delves into finding a loving found family after being separated from her older sister and bounced around in foster care, ultimately having to choose between her found family and her birth mother, after her birth mother claims to be well enough for Grimes to come home. Young adults will identify with and connect to the many challenges explored in Grimes' work, which delves into issues of love, family, responsibility, belonging, finding your place in the world, and fighting the monsters you know-and the ones you don't. The memoir has heartbreaking moments-even soul-crushing ones-that will make readers ache for young Grimes and teens grappling with similar circumstances. But inspiring moments bolster her raw, resonant story, showing that there is always light at the end of the darkest of tunnels. Grades 9-12. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

For award-winning children's and YA author Grimes (Between the Lines, 2018, etc.), writing, faith, and determination were the keys to surviving her tumultuous childhood. In the face of her father's abandonment and the revolving door of her alcoholic mother's psychiatric hospital stays, Grimes becomes savvier and more resilient than any young child should have to be. After being abused by a babysitter when she was 3, Grimes and her beloved older sister, Carol, enter another set of revolving doors: foster care, sometimes loving, sometimes not. At a dark moment when she is 6, Grimes finds escape and comfort in prayer and writing. Despite the instability and danger she endures, Grimes blossoms into a gifted teen with a passion for books, journaling, and poetry. Her personal, political, and artistic awakenings are intertwined, with the drama of her family life unfolding against the backdrop of pivotal moments in Civil Rights-era America. Grimes recounts her story as a memoir in verse, writing with a poet's lyricism through the lens of memory fractured by trauma. Fans of her poetry and prose will appreciate this intimate look at the forces that sha ped her as an artist and as a person determined to find the light in the darkest of circumstances. A raw, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting story of trauma, loss, and the healing power of words. (Verse memoir. 12-adult) Copyright Kirkus 2019 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.


No one warned me
the world was full of
ordinary hazards
like closets with locks and keys.
I learned this lesson when Mom,
without her cousin to fall back on,
left us daily with
a succession of strangers
while she went to work.
One woman was indisputably
a demon in disguise,
full lips grinning slyly
as Mom waved goodbye
each morning.
“See you after work,”
Mom said that first day.
The second she was out of sight,
Demon’s smile melted like
hot paraffin.
Snatching up Carol and me,
she dragged us, kicking, to
the bedroom closet.
She shoved us in, quick as the witch
in “Hansel and Gretel,”
jamming the key in the lock.
“You tattle to your mom about this,” 
she growled, “I’ll comeback
and beat the black off ya.”
Deadly threat delivered,
she left for the day.

I screamed, my puny fists pounding the door
till Carol caught me by the wrists
and held me still. “Shhhh,” she whispered.
“It’s okay. I’m right here.”
Once my breathing slowed,
Carol left me long enough
to navigate the darkness.
She found suitcases to sit on.  
Sniffling, I perched on the edge of one
 and pressed my fingertips together.
“Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.”
I repeated those words
like a chant.
I was three years old.
It was the only prayer I knew.
I should’ve prayed not to pee my pants.
The cramped and stuffy space 
made me wheeze.
Brass fittings on the Samsonite case
dug into the flesh
behind my knees.
But worse yet,
the occasional roach
skittered along my calf,
up a thigh,
and I would scratch
and stomp and cry
till it was off.
No one was around
to wipe away my tears, 
except my sister,
who had tears of her own.
Day after day,
the routine remained unchanged.
Demon locked us up in the morning,
then let us out and fed us just before
Mom came home from work.
Despite the witch’s threat,
the minute Carol saw Mom, she poured out
the horrors of that first day,
but Mom waved her away
with a warning
to quit lying.
One afternoon,
when I thought
we’d live in the dark forever,
I heard what sounded like 
a familiar voice.
“Mommy?” I screamed,
afraid to believe.
But the lock turned,
the door flew open,
and I leaped into Mom’s arms.
“My God!” she said.
“How long have you two
been in here?”
“All day,” snapped Carol,
keeping her distance.
“I told you!
I told you,
but you called me a liar!”
The slap of words sent
Mom to her knees, please 
written all over her face.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered,
reaching for my sister.
Carol backed away.
“Jesus,” Mom said. “What did
this woman do? Are you all right?”
Where to begin?
There were too many answers.
Even my big sister
lacked the language needed
for them all,
so we chose silence.
Besides, it was impossible to guess
which atrocities
Mom was
prepared to hear.
Thankfully, my sister and I
never laid eyes on that
bit of walking evil again. Still,
Demon lived inside us for years,
embedded in our twin fears
of the dark.

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