Sometimes I Trip On How Happy We Could Be by Nichole Perkins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes I Trip On How Happy We Could Be by Nichole Perkins is a meaty biographical essay collection following a writer through her family trauma, romance drama, and the pop culture threads that color every moment.

Images of white girls in love came easily, but everywhere I turned, Black girls were warned.

“Fast” examines the adolescent woes of being a girl labeled by her hormones and where they lead her. The author talks about the warnings that lurked around every corner, seeing the caution her sister Izzie had to take coming of age in the 1980s to their mother starting the family in high school. When the author’s classmates become pregnant barely out of middle school, she writes about seeking distance from her pregnant friends and desiring love like the White girls she noticed finding love onscreen in the films she watched with Izzie.

In another early chapter called “The Women,” the author illustrates her relationships with the main women in her life: Izzie, their mother, her great-grandmother Muh’Deah, and her aunt C. She paints these women with extraordinary detail of life’s mundaneness such as Muh’Deah brushing her hair “using a pink Goody brush with white bristles” and recalling the first time she saw the matriarch herself let her hair down for a male neighbor. Her aunt C drives with both feet in case she has to press the brake for an emergency, but when she takes Nichole to the bookstore, the author for once doesn’t feel judged by her book choices and that means the world to her amid her parents’ divorce.

I didn’t want to bring any more attention to my lack of breasts or whatever else I thought was the marker of moving into womanhood. So when junior high hit, and my parents finally divorced, about three years after Control came out, I started adding more and more black clothing to my wardrobe.

The author’s fashion evolution starting in black is inspired by Janet Jackson, according to the chapter “Janet Jackson and the All-Black Uniform.” Janet’s 1986 independence anthem Control becomes the soundtrack of her parents’ fights as her mother plays the eponymous album’s lead single constantly. The pop star’s all-black uniform choice catches the author’s attention, and she adopts it as her own uniform as she hides her changing body to feel comfortable. Then she notices Janet evolve as an artist via adding colors into her wardrobe. How the author goes over her family’s situation to her own situation playing to the tune of Janet’s iconic song stresses the pop culture impact in her life.

The television show Bones helped pull me from an especially aggressive depressive moment in my life, but Frasier is what I use as a regular antidepressant.

Bingeing TV is a theme in two separate chapters where she discusses how the two mainstream shows targeted to mainly White audiences—one a comedy and the other a drama—helped her through transitions that also include health issues from living with irritable bowel syndrome after being treated for a ruptured spleen. Even in “HBCUs Taught Me,” she absorbs lessons from the 1988 Spike Lee film School Daze and the 1987-1993 NBC sitcom A Different World that brings her to Dillard University in New Orleans, despite being a Nashville native growing up adjacent to HBCUs Fisk University and Tennessee State University.

As she revisits her family life and her home life in different stages, the author is honest about her misadventures of finding love and being afraid she’ll never find it. “My Kameelah-Ass List” examines the lengthy list of qualities she wants in a man, inspired by Real World cast member Kameelah Phillips in the reality show’s 1997 season in Boston. The author writes how Kameelah had 200 items on her list in what she wanted in a man, including his weight and not having children. So the author goes about making her own list, which eventually turns into an internet chatroom magnet for opinions on judging a man with a list when a woman may not live up to the man’s standards either. Kameelah, now an ob-gyn who recently celebrated her 10th wedding anniversary, may have been successful with her list, but the author, on the other hand, only got to 86 items she wanted in a man that she lists in the book.

Overall, the blend of topics are entertaining and eye-opening as she dissects what she learned from her experiences and how societal misconceptions affect those experiences like with her familial relationships, romantic relationships, and friendships in real life and online. The narrator expresses through the essays her fear of not getting everything she wants, but as she ages, that fear morphs yet doesn’t impede her growth. From a Black girl from Nashville who grew up to be a writer, the stories are relatable as they convey her growing pains.

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