Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A PIECE OF CAKE by Cupcake Brown

Doris Dixon reviews A PIECE OF CAKE: A Memoir by Cupcake Brown (Crown, 2006).

Don’t miss this fast-paced, inspiring memoir about recovery from addiction!

Cupcake never shies away from a fight. So if you know what’s good for you, you will never call her La'Vette. That is the name preferred by her biological father, Mr. Burns. She despises him.

Cupcake had thought that “Daddy” (Tim Long) was her father. Then Mr. Burns showed up after her mother’s death seeking custody of Cupcake and her brother. Since Daddy is not their legal guardian, the judge has no choice but to turn the siblings over to Mr. Burns. But he is only interested in their insurance settlement and leaves them with Diane, a brutal woman who hoodwinks caseworkers into believing that she is a loving foster mother.

Eleven-year-old Cupcake is beaten by Diane and raped by her nephew. She turns to alcohol and drugs to alleviate the pain. Over the years, she runs away often, hitchhiking, sleeping in parks, and turning tricks to survive. Each time the authorities eventually return her to Diane. Following one attempted escape, Cupcake lives with a family in South Central Los Angeles. There she gets involved with the Eight-Tray Gangster Crips. Despite their sometimes violent criminal behavior, the Gangsters offer Cupcake friendship and emotional support.

After getting hit in a drive-by shooting, Cupcake strikes a bargain with God. If she survives her injuries, she will give up gangbanging forever. God keeps His word and Cupcake eventually leaves the gang. But she remains alienated from God, blaming Him for her mother’s death and for not stopping Diane’s abuse.

With the help of Daddy and her mother's brother, Cupcake successfully petitions to be an emancipated adult. For the next decade, she continues to abuse drugs and alcohol; party; fight; sleep around; turn the occasional trick; and commit petty crimes. Her ability to land and keep a job (she always quits before being fired) convinces her that she is not a “dope fiend.” It is only after planning her own death (she tries to contract AIDS!) that Cupcake becomes desperate enough to seek God's help again. Through a difficult and painful recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, she finds faith, love, friendship and self-acceptance. She is now a successful attorney living in San Francisco.

Why you'll love it: A Piece of Cake is 1/3 urban "drama," 1/3 coming-of-age story, and 1/3 recovery memoir

Doris Dixon, Raleigh Branch Library

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From Publishers' Weekly, April 2006:

Name Your Poison: Recovery books are big business and these titles lend credence to the belief that reading about other people’s addictions can make you feel better about your own problems.

Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp (Dial)
A journalist recalls her bout with the bottle. After reading A Drinking Life, she decides to sober up.

A Drinking Life by Pete Hamill (Back Bay Books)
Esteemed journalist and novelist Hamill chronicles his long journey to sobriety.

Prozac Nation, Young and Depressed in America: A Memoir by Elizabeth Wurtzel (Riverhead)
Wurtzel, a certifiable depressive who turned to Prozac for help, attempts to make her problems represent a generation’s disaffection.

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen (Vintage)
This tale of an eighteen-year-old who was hospitalized for mental problems in the 1960s are recounted in brief essays.

Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood by Koren Zailckas (Penguin)
Keg parties aren’t what they used to be: A young woman recalls her life as a teenage drunk.

Dry, A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs (Picador)
After littering his apartment with hundreds of empty Dewar’s bottles and 1, 452 empty beer bottles, the author of Running with Scissors not only needed detox - he needed a cleaning lady!

A Million Little Pieces by James Frey (Doubleday)
The notorious, controversial and mostly fabricated memoir of an addict who found his way back from hell.

The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls (Scribner)
Homeless parents, poverty, alcoholism, you name it - Wells has been through the mill and tells all about it in his highly regarded memoir.

Permanent Midnight by Jerry Stahl (Process)
This study in self-absorption tells how a successful television writer became a self-loathing junkie hit who hit rock bottom.

I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!: Daily Affirmations By Stuart Smalley by Al Franken (Dell)
After reading any of the books listed above, you can chase away the blues by laughing your way through this satire of 12-step programs by funnyman Franken.
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