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Buck: A Memoir

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A rebellious boy’s journey through the wilds of urban America and the shrapnel of a self-destructing family—this is the riveting story of a generation told through one dazzlingly poetic new voice. MK Asante was born in Zimbabwe to American parents: a mother who led the new nation’s dance company and a father who would soon become a revered pioneer in black studies. But A rebellious boy’s journey through the wilds of urban America and the shrapnel of a self-destructing family—this is the riveting story of a generation told through one dazzlingly poetic new voice.   MK Asante was born in Zimbabwe to American parents: a mother who led the new nation’s dance company and a father who would soon become a revered pioneer in black studies. But things fell apart, and a decade later MK was in America, a teenager lost in a fog of drugs, sex, and violence on the streets of North Philadelphia. Now he was alone—his mother in a mental hospital, his father gone, his older brother locked up in a prison on the other side of the country—and forced to find his own way to survive physically, mentally, and spiritually, by any means necessary.   Buck is a powerful memoir of how a precocious kid educated himself through the most unconventional teachers—outlaws and eccentrics, rappers and mystic strangers, ghetto philosophers and strippers, and, eventually, an alternative school that transformed his life with a single blank sheet of paper. It’s a one-of-a-kind story about finding your purpose in life, and an inspiring tribute to the power of education, art, and love to heal and redeem us.


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A rebellious boy’s journey through the wilds of urban America and the shrapnel of a self-destructing family—this is the riveting story of a generation told through one dazzlingly poetic new voice. MK Asante was born in Zimbabwe to American parents: a mother who led the new nation’s dance company and a father who would soon become a revered pioneer in black studies. But A rebellious boy’s journey through the wilds of urban America and the shrapnel of a self-destructing family—this is the riveting story of a generation told through one dazzlingly poetic new voice.   MK Asante was born in Zimbabwe to American parents: a mother who led the new nation’s dance company and a father who would soon become a revered pioneer in black studies. But things fell apart, and a decade later MK was in America, a teenager lost in a fog of drugs, sex, and violence on the streets of North Philadelphia. Now he was alone—his mother in a mental hospital, his father gone, his older brother locked up in a prison on the other side of the country—and forced to find his own way to survive physically, mentally, and spiritually, by any means necessary.   Buck is a powerful memoir of how a precocious kid educated himself through the most unconventional teachers—outlaws and eccentrics, rappers and mystic strangers, ghetto philosophers and strippers, and, eventually, an alternative school that transformed his life with a single blank sheet of paper. It’s a one-of-a-kind story about finding your purpose in life, and an inspiring tribute to the power of education, art, and love to heal and redeem us.

30 review for Buck: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Spuckler

    Buck: A Memoir by MK Asante is a young man's account of growing up in the inner-city. Asante has an impressive educational background including The University of London, Lafayette College, and UCLA School of Theater Film and Television. He has written four books and has been in or directed three movies. He has accumulated many awards including the key to my adopted city of Dallas, Texas. Currently, Asante is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing and Film at Morgan State University. I will Buck: A Memoir by MK Asante is a young man's account of growing up in the inner-city. Asante has an impressive educational background including The University of London, Lafayette College, and UCLA School of Theater Film and Television. He has written four books and has been in or directed three movies. He has accumulated many awards including the key to my adopted city of Dallas, Texas. Currently, Asante is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing and Film at Morgan State University. I will be the first to admit that I do not like Hip-Hop. I do not like hearing base thumping from a car a half mile away.* I don't understand the culture...until I read this book. I grew up on the east side of Cleveland in the l960s and 1970s. I could identify with much of what Asante was experienced. There was the lower class, white not black, the city was extremely segregated and we all kept to our side. There was drugs and violence, too. Cleveland’s education system was, and still is, in ruins. There were kids you didn't hang around with and places you just didn't go. And there was music. Previously, I would never had made the connection to what I listened to and what Asante listened to. The sound is different but the message is, surprisingly, much the same. Reading the book, I kept thinking this is the 21st Century version of S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders or That Was Then, This is Now, except it is all real. Buck (Asante) has a rough life and loses most of those around him. He, like many others, did not see a way out through the established system. Looking outside the systems he sees hope, in criminal activity. However, it is a chain of events that puts his life on a different path; it's not religion or some miracle, but smart and practical thinking. The book is punctuated with hip-hop lyrics: “At exactly which point do you start to realize that life without knowledge is death in disguise?” K.O.S.. Other lyrics are more graphic and violent, but in them are message of repression, unity, and fighting for your rights. It is what I heard growing up,but to totally different music. Although twenty years his senior, Asante thought me to rethink what I know about hip-hop and its message. I understand it now; Thank you. It is rare to find a book that changes your opinions. Buck is an outstanding memoir of culture, life, death, and redemption. The message is universal no matter what your race. In what most claim to be a fair and free society, many do not experience it. Many are locked into a cycle of poverty; some stay in poverty, some turn to crime, some to drugs , and luckily, a very few escape to remind the rest of us that there are major problems in society that go ignored. -- Don't live in that neighborhood, Don't live in that school district, don't even drive through that area...just pretend it does not exist. Asante, made it out and reminds us that we have a long way to go before fair or even a fair chance exists for all. A must read book. *I do now understand there is a difference between rap and hip-hop.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Donna Davis

    There are spoilers coming. There's just no other way to review this one. MK Asante was born in Zimbabwe, but the first time we meet him is in "Killadelphia, Pistolvania". His family is out of control, and consequently, so is he. His brother is deep into gang life, running guns and drugs. By the time he is 12, MK has "favorite" porn artists, is sexually active, and doesn't think twice before leaping into a stolen car alongside his brother, who goes by "Uzi". He adores his brother. His brother is There are spoilers coming. There's just no other way to review this one. MK Asante was born in Zimbabwe, but the first time we meet him is in "Killadelphia, Pistolvania". His family is out of control, and consequently, so is he. His brother is deep into gang life, running guns and drugs. By the time he is 12, MK has "favorite" porn artists, is sexually active, and doesn't think twice before leaping into a stolen car alongside his brother, who goes by "Uzi". He adores his brother. His brother is 16 and assumes that he won't stay long behind bars for the things he does because he is a minor. We never learn for sure whether he is sent to live with a relative in Arizona to keep his influence from affecting MK (too late) or because the local heat has a real itch for him. Once he is there, however, he is tried as an adult for rape, for having sex with a 13 year old Caucasian. He thought she was 16. It's a huge blow to everyone when he draws hard time. Let's pause here a moment. If you know absolutely no street lexicon (USA), and if you regard the Philadelphia police force as brothers and comrades, keep your wallet in your pocket. If you aren't sure, or have seen the cops in major metropolitan cities do low-income teenagers (and even those from the middle class) irreparable harm and no good (or not much), you might be in the right ballpark. I hope you are, because this is a powerhouse of a memoir. But there is no glossary, so for example, if the word "blunt" means something that is not sharp-edged, and nothing else, you may get dizzy and give up. If you don't know the difference between "nigga" and the N word, and who can say it and who can't, move on to the next selection on the shelf. But if these things have become either part of your own lexicon, or are familiar because of young people in your life who say them, you can read this just fine and Google any parts where you have difficulty. It's well worth it. Oh, and lest I forget, here it is: YES! I got this book free, from the Goodreads giveaway. If this had been a lousy read, my gratuity would have been withholding my review. Nobody gets five stars out of me unless I think what they have to offer is worth five stars. The one question I have about this one, is where this urban jewel has been hanging for the last several years. All of hip-hop lyrics, the songs of urban protest, are from the 90's. It is true that Tupac lives on forever, but in 2013, it seems to me that some years have gone missing nevertheless. I hope Random House hasn't bought the rights to this book and then parked on it for awhile, and I hope it comes out soon. I began reading within 48 hours of the Trayvon Martin verdict. My own large family is multiracial, and my youngest son, who is African-American and 25, was just packing to move out of the house and in with some friends. Reading the first chapters of this book gave me such an anxiety attack that the man did well to get out of the house before I started sewing name tags into his hoodies and packing him a plastic lunch box to take to school and work. I'm exaggerating, but only a small amount. I think this is a time when family members of young Black men are watching their own closely and holding their breath. Carole/Amina, the mother who provides counterpoint to Malo's (MK's) narrative, is anxious too, but mental illness and a deteriorating marriage have deprived her of her voice. She loves her son, but has lost all authority and communication with him. She begs him to take care of her, and he recognizes, when his father leaves, that he is the "man of the family". He has been deprived of his childhood somewhere along the way. He learns his mother's thoughts only by reading her diary. He is chronically truant from the private Quaker school she and her husband have sent him to, but she isn't worried about that. She isn't worried about the fact that he and a friend regularly steal her car and ride around in it until dawn, even though he is way too young to even have a learner's permit. I want to scream at her, "Why the hell not???" That's the easy part. The school principal wants to talk to his family, but nobody is available. Ultimately, MK's mother attempts suicide (not for the first time) and is institutionalized, as her daughter has already been. When she comes home, Malo's father, a man known and respected as a civil rights activist and scholar, leaves her. His sole remaining child is enraged by his abdication. Every time his father loses control of the household, his response is absence. The hard part is to say, "What would you do here?" Can you correct the problem with social workers and foster homes? I don't think so. Most foster kids vote with their feet. They stay for dinner, maybe try to round up some cash, then hit the bricks and don't go back. Can you fix the problem with a good school? Yes, no, and maybe. I send my own children to a really wonderful alternative school. It has made a huge difference for my kids who were at risk, and also for the child who was always the perfect example. But if other things get bad quickly enough, the school can't do a damn thing. The Quaker school was majority Caucasian at a time when the author of "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria" says is actually when Black teens need an immersion experience to foster their sense of self. The Quaker school, though some of the staff appeared to mean well, either wrote Malo off as a bad seed (and face it, how many academics want to hear "fuck you" from an angry student?), or decided that he could not produce, as the high school basketball coach gives him permission to spend his class time shooting baskets if he'd prefer. A gym is a safer place than the streets...but what kind of education is that? Is this really the best a gifted young Black man can expect? Not only no, but hell no! The alternative school is one his mother finds after he has been arrested. He agrees to give it a try, and for (amazingly) the first time, he is asked in a friendly, personal yet not invasive environment to write something--anything. As a retired language arts and history teacher, I find this dreadful. Every kid should be given this type of opportunity. I am appalled by the public school teachers who flatly tell the students they don't want to be there and only show up for the paycheck. Are they expecting the students to react with understanding? I taught in high poverty schools, too, and you can bet your bottom dollar that I apologized to my students if there wasn't a desk for everyone, and I found a spot for everyone to sit down until I could rectify the situation. Malo was robbed both by the Quakers and the public school system. The alternative school helps him find his own voice. He discovers that until he has begun to read, he has no vocabulary, and without a good vocabulary, he wasn't able to express himself. But the other critical factor is the reemergence of his father, who to be fair has been trying to call him, trying to get in touch with him, but Malo has been unable to forgive him for abandoning the family and leaving his mother to flounder unaided in an untenable situation. When Malo is arrested, he refuses to phone his father, not wanting to give into his own need, or to see his father's disappointment. His father finds out and comes to pick him up anyway. And though I have given away a large part of his story, I will leave the climactic scene between the two of them for the reader. Later, Malo performs at a spoken word session when his girlfriend signs him up. The poem "Buck" is one of his own. He tells us that he finally understands why it was illegal to teach a slave to read and write, because there is so much power in the written word. And he decides that he wants to be a writer. He is.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    buck (n): a fashionable and typically hell-raising young man. 2 racial slur--used to described black men. 3 a young black man: what's up young buck? 4 the act of becoming wild and uncontrollable: he went buck wild. 5 a dollar. 6 to fire gunshots: buckshots in the air. 7 to go against, rebel: buck the system."Everybody calls me 'young buck' when they see me." Asante’s journey from inner city street punk in Killadelphia to college professor is a wild ride. Knowing the outcome doesn’t dull the buck (n): a fashionable and typically hell-raising young man. 2 racial slur--used to described black men. 3 a young black man: what's up young buck? 4 the act of becoming wild and uncontrollable: he went buck wild. 5 a dollar. 6 to fire gunshots: buckshots in the air. 7 to go against, rebel: buck the system."Everybody calls me 'young buck' when they see me." Asante’s journey from inner city street punk in Killadelphia to college professor is a wild ride. Knowing the outcome doesn’t dull the description of his path: sexy, wild, ugly, and redemptive. There is a kind of love shown between family members in this ghetto life that may be greater than all other loves because it flows despite real failures by real people. A little light, and a little faith in a kid backed into a corner seems to have made a difference. Not every intervention can be as timely, but the results are unequivocal. This book was assembled from fragments in a teen’s life in the late nineteen nineties. My copy of this title was published in 2013; the paperback will be released in May 2014. The language and sensibility wears a noticeable twelve-year lag, it seems to me, but it is instructive none-the-less. How far we seem to have come in ten years, all of us. I wonder if Asante would agree, or if he would say that “nothing has changed.” Perhaps nothing substantive in the lives of Killadelphians has changed, or changed enough. The main thrust of the narrative, however, is perennial. A young boy discovers the voices of all who have come before him and realizes that the paths ahead are many and varied and bear no resemblance to the one he walks daily in his neighborhood. “I spit lyrics to songs under my breath--all day, every day…It’s like hip-hop Tourette’s.” The book is punctuated with stanzas that suit the action, his own and those of others, suitably referenced. One can tell words, descriptive words, are his passion. The story introduces street life through street slang. I particularly liked the device of reading Malo’s mother’s diary to learn what she was thinking as she lay torpid and drugged through Malo’s teen years. His father quit town to save himself, and his brother got himself locked up. All in all a harrowing upbringing, but kids still learn without being in school. It’s what they learn that is at issue. Asante still has a ways to go to break into Literature but his path is true and his talent real. He is a good mirror. I note he is a filmmaker. Asante has a right to be proud. And whoever gave him the chance to get out of the hood has a right to be proud. I learned of this title from a NoViolet Bulawayo’s B&N interview, and have thought of that recommendation several times since.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Andre

    I was awarded this book in a Goodreads giveaway, but plan on buying more for the young men in my extended family. "Now I see why reading was illegal for black people during slavery. I discover that I think in words. The more words I know, the more things I can think about....Reading was illegal because if you limit someone's vocab, you limit their thoughts. They can't even think of freedom because they don't have the language to." p. 229. I certainly wish many more young men would have this I was awarded this book in a Goodreads giveaway, but plan on buying more for the young men in my extended family. "Now I see why reading was illegal for black people during slavery. I discover that I think in words. The more words I know, the more things I can think about....Reading was illegal because if you limit someone's vocab, you limit their thoughts. They can't even think of freedom because they don't have the language to." p. 229. I certainly wish many more young men would have this epiphany about reading. And that's why this book is important, it can be inspirational for youth everywhere who feel locked out and left behind. I think MK has done a superb job in representing his generation. His journey thus far told with a hip hop sensibility is certainly one that will resonate with many. Buck is MK's story of coming of age in '90s Philadelphia. With a father that was/is a legendary educator, scholar and lecturer, and a mother who also was a celebrated educator in her own right, it's hard to understand how MK came so close to the third rail. Again, a close reading of this memoir will reveal it's essentialness. The way his life unravels and plunges him onto the road to self-destruction is finely detailed. A two parent household doesn't guarantee one will be kept from the vices of the hood. Especially given a father who is often absent and a mother struggling with mental illness. When MK's older brother gets locked up, his world begins to really spiral out of control. We meet the various "friends" that orbit MK's universe. The acting out and the anger is easily identifiable, because the family structure is broken, the secondary institutions are broken and the community is in chaos. All of this is bravely shared, and hip hop lyrics are frequently added to the pages as sort of a soundtrack for his life. This is an excellent book for any youngster struggling to find their place in this thing called life. MK's voice feels authentic, and his talent for writing is obvious. You sometimes worry that memoirs are often embellished to give the author a harder edge or a hero image, you don't feel that that at all in this book. The genuineness of this story will prove important to its' ultimate success, because today's youth can sniff out fakery with the greatest of ease. Thankfully, MK does an excellent job of keeping it real. The book ends prematurely in my opinion and my only wish was for more of his story. I think it is important to talk about how he became a tenured professor. The detail of that specific passage could act as a blueprint for the inspired reader. Perhaps a second volume is planned, and the hope for that is, may it be as nourishing and honest as this one has been.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Zoeytron

    Gaining a toehold in starting this book can be tough, but I urge you to stick with it. You will be rewarded with a story that will stay with you. It is uplifting without a shred of sappiness. The title of the book is apt. I loved all the applications of the word "buck" that were used. If you are a lover of adroit turns of phrases, you will dig on the ones contained in here and they are many. My favorite was a man who was 'so fat he runs out of breath trying to catch his breath'. Memoirs as a Gaining a toehold in starting this book can be tough, but I urge you to stick with it. You will be rewarded with a story that will stay with you. It is uplifting without a shred of sappiness. The title of the book is apt. I loved all the applications of the word "buck" that were used. If you are a lover of adroit turns of phrases, you will dig on the ones contained in here and they are many. My favorite was a man who was 'so fat he runs out of breath trying to catch his breath'. Memoirs as a whole are not my first choice, but this one spoke to me. I may not have always been familiar with the street lingo that was used, but the context steers you where you need to go. A very worthwhile read. This was a first-reads giveaway, thank you.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Toni

    In the early 90's I managed a couple of Black bookstores and one of our most popular titles was Afrocentriciy by Molefi Asante. This book was the foundation of a cultural movement at the time that sought to strengthen the ties between African-Americans and their African heritage. But while Professor Asante was on the lecture and media circuit, the foundation of his home life was crumbling. M.K. Asante (Malo) has written an incredible memoir of his adolescence in Philadelphia. With his older In the early 90's I managed a couple of Black bookstores and one of our most popular titles was Afrocentriciy by Molefi Asante. This book was the foundation of a cultural movement at the time that sought to strengthen the ties between African-Americans and their African heritage. But while Professor Asante was on the lecture and media circuit, the foundation of his home life was crumbling. M.K. Asante (Malo) has written an incredible memoir of his adolescence in Philadelphia. With his older stepbrother in prison, his mother struggling with a mental illness and a father always away, Malo is forced to navigate his own path through a life of gangs, violence and drugs. What sets this apart from other "coming-of-age" urban stories is Malo's intelligence, and his need to connect with the family that has abandoned him in a sense. Discovering his mother's diary, instead of feeling invasive, helps him learn about the woman she was and has become, while the published excerpts give the reader insight into a mother's fear of losing her sons to the streets. Malo's story of transformation through his discovery of his love of the written word is one of the most beautiful I've read all year.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Shanae

    I was so excited for MK Asante's BUCK. When I read the synopsis earlier this year, I just knew I had to read this man's story of triumph. BUCK is a very moving literary work. I see why CNN and Maya Angelou gave Asante such praise. He is truly a brilliant writer...so descriptive and in touch with his audience, he easily transitions from slang, vulgarity, and the rawness of a life of oppression to a language more readily identified as "poetic." Asante shows that the two are very much connected and I was so excited for MK Asante's BUCK. When I read the synopsis earlier this year, I just knew I had to read this man's story of triumph. BUCK is a very moving literary work. I see why CNN and Maya Angelou gave Asante such praise. He is truly a brilliant writer...so descriptive and in touch with his audience, he easily transitions from slang, vulgarity, and the rawness of a life of oppression to a language more readily identified as "poetic." Asante shows that the two are very much connected and forces you to like it. I thoroughly enjoyed the memoir, it lived up to my expectations, it deserves its hype. If you're afraid of vulgarity, afraid to escape your box of safety, afraid to read what it is to be Black and male in America, then don't get this memoir. BUCK is not easy to read or forget, it's frightening, it's shocking, it's appalling. But it's also a story of hope, expectation, and need for better. It's weird how something can be so unappealing and inspiring simultaneously...but BUCK is just that. I recommend it completely.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kara

    ATTENTION (April 2014 change): I have revised this review to show a well-deserved 5 rather than 4 star rating -- I am a more experienced reviewer now, and I see some ratings from earlier reviews were a bit too high or low based on the standard for 2013 overall (2014 reviews are more on target). I'm not marking down any I think I may have given a star too many because it seems unnecessary and kind of mean. But, I thought I ought to show full regard when merited with my rating if I am serious ATTENTION (April 2014 change): I have revised this review to show a well-deserved 5 rather than 4 star rating -- I am a more experienced reviewer now, and I see some ratings from earlier reviews were a bit too high or low based on the standard for 2013 overall (2014 reviews are more on target). I'm not marking down any I think I may have given a star too many because it seems unnecessary and kind of mean. But, I thought I ought to show full regard when merited with my rating if I am serious enough to actually have written a review in the first place. To fail to make this change would do the work and the writer a disservice. Thanks for reading/scanning this review, everyone. Cheers. Original Review: This is a fascinating memoir, but it reads more like a superb novel. The sophistication of M.K. Asante's work reflects long study and practice of his craft -- to say nothing of great giftedness as a writer. It veritably oozes ambition in the best sense possible. The book is a coming-of-age story set in an African-American family who we meet living in the Philadelphia area. Asante's style can be described as "urban"-influenced, and much of his story has to do with the specifics of his youth in "urban" environments -- with their attendant dangers and disadvantages, peculiarities and personalities, and unique and rich local culture(s), which variously impact Asante. However, its major theme has to do with his self-education and deepening understanding of himself and where he comes from. This story shows the coming of age of an intellectual and an artist, and it places itself squarely within a long and broad literary tradition in that respect. Most prominent among the strengths here, Asante is fearless in his (largely successful) experimentation with form, which gives his story a unique and distinctly appropriate voice and correspondingly authentic effect on his audience. He uses language with great purpose and frequent brilliance. His work is unmistakably art. On the other hand, the organization didn't always seem to be in perfect step with the content of the story; on occasion, his brilliant range of formal approaches looked to be applied somewhat haphazardly. Some of his lyricism fell flat as well, even though much of it was wonderfully evocative and original. In sum, Buck: A Memoir is a fine work of literature that bears a lot of scrutiny; close or multiple readings of the text will enrich understanding and stimulate. However, some elements of the book are much stronger than others. Still, I strongly recommend reading this book, if for no other reason than it will give you insight into the true masterpiece(s) M.K. Asante will author in the years to come (among many other things). I received my copy of this book from the Goodreads First Reads giveaway program.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Beverly Diehl

    "The fall in Killadelphia. Outside is the color of cornbread and blood. Change hangs in the air like the sneaks on the live wires behind my crib." I received a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Every American teenager goes through a period of rebellion as s/he tries to figure out who s/he is, apart from the parents. But for no other group in America is this transition as dangerous as for young black men. Malo's older brother is in jail. His father is always "The fall in Killadelphia. Outside is the color of cornbread and blood. Change hangs in the air like the sneaks on the live wires behind my crib." I received a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Every American teenager goes through a period of rebellion as s/he tries to figure out who s/he is, apart from the parents. But for no other group in America is this transition as dangerous as for young black men. Malo's older brother is in jail. His father is always traveling; his mother, depressed. His schools: some give him a pass and don't require him to do much of anything, long as he keeps playing basketball. Others are more like a holding pen, the teachers flat out telling the students "I'm just here for the paycheck." It's amazing that any of them make it out of there alive, and sadly, too many don't. Malo loses his best friend, Amir, and afterward, the funeral director takes him and his friends in the back room. "He shows us the coffins and tells us, 'The little ones, for teenagers like y’all, are my best sellers and business is booming! Booming!'" The best memoirs let you crawl inside the skin of someone who's not like you, and MAKE you feel it, as if it is your own life. I was not only feeling for and with Malo, I was actually nodding to the raw beauty and poetry of hip-hop lyrics, the way they perfectly fit the narrative of the story. I also got a glimpse inside his mother's head, through her journal entries, which Malo reads/shares here. She is battling her depression so hard; like a lot of people, the drugs sometimes help and sometimes turn her into a zombie, but she keep fighting for her younger son until finally, she finds a school that "gets" him. They make him write, and in writing, he finds his own voice. "Holding the pen this way, snug and firm in my fist, makes me feel like I can write my future, spell out my destiny in sharp strokes." I couldn't help thinking of "A mind is a terrible thing to waste," yet we do waste so many minds, so many bright young men and women of all colors and ethnicities COULD give back so much. If only we tried a little harder, found the key to reaching them, instead of warehousing them in school until they are 18, then warehousing them in jail ever after. There are many definitions of the word "buck;" it's a term for a person, for money, for an act of rebellion, or of sex, and in the end, M.K. Asante claims it for his own. "Became a doer, dream pursuer, purpose-driven Past meets the future In between no longer and not yet Rise up, young buck, never forget" This book is going to stay with me for a long time.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Gaele

    In a world turned upside down by violence, escaping the danger is often not a simple solution. Such is the case in M. K. Asante’s new book entitled Buck: A Memoir. Born to American parents in Zimbabwe, their return to the US and the subsequent years haven’t always been kind. In fact, we first meet him as his family is spiraling out of control, fueled by the street life mentality of the neighborhood in Philly, with an older brother in a gang and street name of Uzi, this 12 year old boy is living In a world turned upside down by violence, escaping the danger is often not a simple solution. Such is the case in M. K. Asante’s new book entitled Buck: A Memoir. Born to American parents in Zimbabwe, their return to the US and the subsequent years haven’t always been kind. In fact, we first meet him as his family is spiraling out of control, fueled by the street life mentality of the neighborhood in Philly, with an older brother in a gang and street name of Uzi, this 12 year old boy is living far beyond what is age-appropriate in many areas. With an absent father and a mother who is severely mentally ill, and often hospitalized, Malo is often left to his own devices after his brother’s quick disappearance. His mother is ineffective, in fact she begs him to step up and be the ‘man’ of the family, a child playing adult for years before it should have been necessary or acceptable. This is not an easy read, nor should it be. Language is the words of the street, and those unfamiliar will be searching the internet to find appropriate translation and meaning. But for those who allow the words and the incredibly honest narrative take them for the ride, it will be one of the most enlightening of their lives. Be warned that this story is strong in language and imagery is often graphic and will be shocking (in all good ways) to those unfamiliar with the more urban and impoverished areas of our country’s cities. Yet the growth, talent and determination of this young man and his struggle to learn and grow, to find himself and build a sense of accomplishment that won’t be shattered with gunfire and jail is well worth your time. The largest discovery we are treated to, and one that brings this story to a focal point is the oft-used “pen is mightier than the sword”. When Malo is able to both recognize the truth in the statement, and apply it to his own learning and growth, and in doing so wanting to become a writer: he has arrived. M.K. Asante has offered us one version of a writer, and made it entirely his own, and a writer to watch he most certainly is. I received an ARC copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mari

    I picked this after seeing the #ReadSoulLit challenge going around Twitter and Booktube, in honor of Black History Month. It was a nice reminder that it is always a good time to diversify your reading and expand your world view. And really, that's what our focus should be when we speak of diversifying our reading. Not keeping count of the race or religion of the authors or main characters for the sake of statistics, but seeking out media that will expand our understanding of the world and help I picked this after seeing the #ReadSoulLit challenge going around Twitter and Booktube, in honor of Black History Month. It was a nice reminder that it is always a good time to diversify your reading and expand your world view. And really, that's what our focus should be when we speak of diversifying our reading. Not keeping count of the race or religion of the authors or main characters for the sake of statistics, but seeking out media that will expand our understanding of the world and help us see through the eyes of those that are different (but it turns out, not so different) than us. For that reason, I loved Buck. I loved it because I felt completely immersed in Asante's world and his upbringing. It is a history, and yet, I still found myself on the figurative edge of my seat, feeling the danger that was around every corner of his life. I'm amazed by the way Asante writes both conversationally and lyrically. He keeps so true to his own voice and it makes the style incredibly fluid. He's talking to you through the pages and before you know it, you've read the whole thing, like it was just one long story with an old friend. Best of all, I feel that what Asante offers is a look into many race issues that turn out to be incredibly easy to relate to. They are universal themes of loss and family and hope and hopelessness. This was a very impacting read and one I would highly recommend.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Chris Craddock

    Worth a Zillion Bucks The streets were calling the young buck with their siren song, literally and figuratively: the siren call of temptation along with the real call of police sirens coming to arrest his brother, his homies, and him. It is a harrowing tale well told--but as dark as his story gets, there is always the hope for redemption. Buck unfolds on the streets of Philadelphia--AKA Killadelphia. The title refers to many things, but mainly it is about the author and narrator who is a young Worth a Zillion Bucks The streets were calling the young buck with their siren song, literally and figuratively: the siren call of temptation along with the real call of police sirens coming to arrest his brother, his homies, and him. It is a harrowing tale well told--but as dark as his story gets, there is always the hope for redemption. Buck unfolds on the streets of Philadelphia--AKA Killadelphia. The title refers to many things, but mainly it is about the author and narrator who is a young buck trying to make a buck while avoiding being shot with buck shot. He tries to buck the system, especially the public schools overwhelmed with just trying to keep some semblance of order, let alone teach anything. His brother Uzi is his role model, but he is leading him astray. Uzi gets sent to Arizona to live with an uncle, but the uncle is an addict and backslides. With no adult supervision Uzi ends up in hot water. A long stretch in the penetentury. Meanwhile, his father leaves and his mother has mental issues. Most of his friends are either in gangs or involved in criminal activity. To make money he sells weed, which is quite lucrative for the young buck--until his mother flushes his stash and throws thousands of bucks of ill gotten gain into the incinerator. He is left owing over 3 grand to his connection, who bragged that he killed someone who owed him a hundred bucks. Things don't look so great for Malo, the young buck. Still, you are holding a book in your hands that he wrote, so something must have changed his direction? This book explains a lot of slang terms, for instance, "jawn" is an all purpose word that can stand for anything. It usually means some kind of gig or party, but its definitions are multiform. Overreaching the wide horizon like the rainbow, its hues are as various as the hues of that arch, as distinct too, yet as intimately blended. Overreaching the wide horizon like the rainbow! I read a tweet by Questlove? of The Roots where he used the world "jawn." The Roots are also from Philadelphia, and are even mentioned in the book. Malo gets to rap with them at a jawn. His rap contains allusions to Rivers, a poem by Langston Hughes. There are a lot of quotes from rap songs and poems sprinkled throughout. Whitman, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, Nas, Tupac, & The Roots are a few of the poets and lyricists quoted in Buck, A Memoir. Buck is about what it is like out there on the streets right NOW. It is an up-to-the-minute update on reality as we enter the second decade of the millennium. With things like the Trayvon Martin incident in the news, it couldn't be more relevant. Still, as modern as it is, it reminds me of many other books such as Invisible Man by Ralph Elison, Native Son, by Richard Wright, and Things Fall Apart, by the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. MK Asante may be added to that illustrious list soon. He is a modern day griot.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mandy

    M K Asante’s powerful memoir of growing up in Philadelphia is a stark reminder that although many African Americans have risen to prominence and status in the United States, something which would have been unimaginable to earlier generations, countless others are stuck in a world of deprivation and poverty. And it’s that world that Asante so vividly describes in this searing but ultimately uplifting book. It’s a memoir of not only surviving but also of building success out of failure, and of M K Asante’s powerful memoir of growing up in Philadelphia is a stark reminder that although many African Americans have risen to prominence and status in the United States, something which would have been unimaginable to earlier generations, countless others are stuck in a world of deprivation and poverty. And it’s that world that Asante so vividly describes in this searing but ultimately uplifting book. It’s a memoir of not only surviving but also of building success out of failure, and of triumphing over circumstances that so often destroy other young lives. At only 30, Asante is an author, poet, filmmaker and hip-hop artist and a professor of creative writing and film at Morgan State University. In his memoir he describes growing up in “Killadelphia”, where his family slowly disintegrates in front of him. Drugs, sex, violence – all conspires to destroy him too. But an unconventional teacher in an unconventional school lights the spark that enables him to transcend his beginnings to become the success he is today and to be a beacon of light and hope to other young black men. The book is a song of praise to the power of education and the written and spoken word, of how the language of the streets, of hip-hop, can be empowering and liberating and can offer a way out. As he comments, he now understands why it was illegal to teach a slave to read or write, because there is such power in the written word. This is an unforgettable and moving account of an environment few of us can imagine, and which often inspires fear and distrust. I am grateful to Netgalley for sending me a book that I would have been very unlikely to read otherwise, and one which I found so uplifting and thought-provoking. The language is the language of the streets, the descriptions harrowing and hard-hitting but I have learnt a lot from this book and recommend it – even if it doesn’t sound at first glance “your sort” of book. I didn’t think it was mine – but I’m so glad to have discovered it.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Shannon Whitehead

    MK Asante’s memoir tells all about his journey growing up in Philadelphia, eventually finding his passion and place in life. He tells it with writing that’s genuine and matter-of-fact, and through hip hop lyrics (by himself and others). The book follows his family struggles with painful detail—his mom’s mental health issues, his dad’s inconsistency, and his brother’s downward spiral. It follows Asante to the point where he discovers the power of words and reaches a new height in his MK Asante’s memoir tells all about his journey growing up in Philadelphia, eventually finding his passion and place in life. He tells it with writing that’s genuine and matter-of-fact, and through hip hop lyrics (by himself and others). The book follows his family struggles with painful detail—his mom’s mental health issues, his dad’s inconsistency, and his brother’s downward spiral. It follows Asante to the point where he discovers the power of words and reaches a new height in his self-education with a newfound love for books. My dominant feeling at the end of the memoir was just being incredibly proud of him. He’s now a tenured professor (and so much more), and I would’ve loved to read about his journey there, too. I’m crossing my fingers that this isn’t the last book we’ll see from him. “Now I see why reading was illegal for Black people during slavery. I discover that I think in words. The more words I know, the more things I can think about...Reading was illegal because if you limit someone's vocab, you limit their thoughts. They can't even think of freedom because they don't have the language to.” Let's connect: Blog | Bookstagram | Twitter | Facebook

  15. 5 out of 5

    Blackgirlsreadtoo

    “At exactly which point do you start to realise. That life without knowledge is death in disguise”. The references may be dated, for some. However, it’s hearty, sexy, messy & exhilarating telling carries it through. Inspired by afrocentricity and reading our protagonist finds the strength to define himself and chase his dreams of becoming a writer. Leaving behind a gang affiliated lifestyle. It’s a story we all know a LOT or little about. And yet, such a narrative is a must read. An utterly “At exactly which point do you start to realise. That life without knowledge is death in disguise”. The references may be dated, for some. However, it’s hearty, sexy, messy & exhilarating telling carries it through. Inspired by afrocentricity and reading our protagonist finds the strength to define himself and chase his dreams of becoming a writer. Leaving behind a gang affiliated lifestyle. It’s a story we all know a LOT or little about. And yet, such a narrative is a must read. An utterly unique & original memoir. It’s the sort of book you’d want to shove in every kids hands. It’s apt too-being published in the era of “wokeness”. A state of being I like and wholeheartedly encourage. I especially appreciated the writing style: how paired down it was. If it weren’t for the X-rated themes i’d be recommending it to kids as young as 5. Desperately hoping that the big screen carries its sass, urgency & chaos.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Philip

    Loving the lyricality, language, cadence, emotion and contemporary voice that blitzes eyes as if the story is a rabid narrative with a fierce need to be read immediately. This book held me hostage in Barnes & Nobles as the pen of MK took off through the city of Philly and bounced between his struggles, adventures and heartbreaks. He opened up with accounts that included very personal family journals including those that came from his mother and sister. Hip Hop lives in the pages of this Loving the lyricality, language, cadence, emotion and contemporary voice that blitzes eyes as if the story is a rabid narrative with a fierce need to be read immediately. This book held me hostage in Barnes & Nobles as the pen of MK took off through the city of Philly and bounced between his struggles, adventures and heartbreaks. He opened up with accounts that included very personal family journals including those that came from his mother and sister. Hip Hop lives in the pages of this book.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ruel

    Compelling coming-of-age memoir written in an energetic style, with liberal doses of hip hop lyrics and references. As a young man, Asante travels through hell and back as his life around him crumbles due to drugs, prison, murder, mental illness, and more. It's a personal story of redemption, salvation, and the power of the written word from an inspiring voice. I'm looking forward to reading his other books.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Marianne Morris

    I heard the author speak at the Free Library and he was amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, the story of a boy growing up in Philly in tough circumstances. Parts of it are very dark and sad. But it's also funny and full of life and hope. MK Asante says he's working on movie projects now - I cannot wait to see what else he does, in whatever medium.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sam Lyon

    Malo has no guidance or support in his life. His father left them, his mother takes anti-depressants, his stepbrother goes to jail, and his sister is in and out of mental institutions. Malo doesn't know his way until he is sent to a new school, where his english teacher inspires him to find a love for writing. One strength that this book had was that I was able to really put myself into M.K. Astante's shoes. Because the book came from her perspective on a things that really happened to her, the Malo has no guidance or support in his life. His father left them, his mother takes anti-depressants, his stepbrother goes to jail, and his sister is in and out of mental institutions. Malo doesn't know his way until he is sent to a new school, where his english teacher inspires him to find a love for writing. One strength that this book had was that I was able to really put myself into M.K. Astante's shoes. Because the book came from her perspective on a things that really happened to her, the book had a lot more meaning. One weakness I recognized was that the book didn't display enough times where he was being downgraded because of his race. The book was really about his struggle through life because of family problems. I wouldn't recommend this book to younger kids and younger teens because there was a lot of foul content used while different people are talking or referring to things. I would recommend this book to older teens because the older teens would be able to understnad what Malo was going through. An adult wouldn't know how to take all of this tragedy in because nowaday's it's harder to be a teen. But this book could be beneficial to adults because it could help them to better understand what their kids are going through.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    I became aware of this book after an unsuccessful campaign to ban it from Baltimore City schools for obscenity. It's not a conventional memoir - there's loads of recreated dialogue, and Asante at various points embodies the voices of his mother, sister, and brother in documents that are purported to be letters and journal entries, but which read as though they were written/adapted by the author himself. As long as those things don't bother you, "Buck" is a compelling memoir. Asante's hyperactive I became aware of this book after an unsuccessful campaign to ban it from Baltimore City schools for obscenity. It's not a conventional memoir - there's loads of recreated dialogue, and Asante at various points embodies the voices of his mother, sister, and brother in documents that are purported to be letters and journal entries, but which read as though they were written/adapted by the author himself. As long as those things don't bother you, "Buck" is a compelling memoir. Asante's hyperactive prose is always engaging and frequently dazzling. Moreover, he manages to capture the terror and thrill of his troubled teenage years without moralizing or glamorizing. Asante makes it clear why gang life appealed to him at 14 and 15, why it was imperative for him to leave it behind, and how the scars from it affect him as an adult. A good read for me, and a possibly life-changing one for any teenager in a situation similar to Asante's.

  21. 5 out of 5

    M.

    This book is set in a time and place very near and dear to my heart. The most Philly shit I've read in a long long time. I feel like the kids in school should get this to read, and they'd be able to connect with it waaayy way more than Catcher in the goddamn Rye. (Although the kids in school should also get hell of books to read that feature non male protagonists.) The way I even got this book was wild - I saw a dude reading it in line for the megabus to new york. I saw it and was like, yo is This book is set in a time and place very near and dear to my heart. The most Philly shit I've read in a long long time. I feel like the kids in school should get this to read, and they'd be able to connect with it waaayy way more than Catcher in the goddamn Rye. (Although the kids in school should also get hell of books to read that feature non male protagonists.) The way I even got this book was wild - I saw a dude reading it in line for the megabus to new york. I saw it and was like, yo is that book good? I'm from Olney, I heard it's set there. And dude is like, yeah it's good. Later on when we're boarding the bus, he finds me in my seat and passes it to me like, here have it, I just finished it. So good. Am waiting to pass it onto to someone else now.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Audra

    "This all feels like broken glass in my mind." You ever read something so deep and so powerful that the world falls away and you can actually hear the voice of the writer in your mind and feel like you're walking in the story right beside him and living his life with him? Did you ever read something and at the end feel like you actually went through what you just read even though it's a world you've never experienced? Did you ever come away from a reading experience with so many emotions you can't "This all feels like broken glass in my mind." You ever read something so deep and so powerful that the world falls away and you can actually hear the voice of the writer in your mind and feel like you're walking in the story right beside him and living his life with him? Did you ever read something and at the end feel like you actually went through what you just read even though it's a world you've never experienced? Did you ever come away from a reading experience with so many emotions you can't begin to put into words how the book made you feel and you feel like any words you write about it won't do the book justice? Get it. Read it. Feel it. Embrace it. Carry a piece of it with you forever. You'll be the better for it.

  23. 4 out of 5

    LeeTravelGoddess

    This book really went there and at the very moment that I concluded that I wouldn’t like the book because it was just TOO MUCH TO DIGEST he flips it and I am relieved . He explains his writing style as the parachute’s chord is pulled and I am floating, floating towards a palatable ending. This memoir comes to show you that the circumstances of your life bring you to the place in which your future relies. Beautiful coming of age story and I hope to read more from the author as time continues on. This book really went there and at the very moment that I concluded that I wouldn’t like the book because it was just TOO MUCH TO DIGEST he flips it and I am relieved 😌. He explains his writing style as the parachute’s chord is pulled and I am floating, floating towards a palatable ending. This memoir comes to show you that the circumstances of your life bring you to the place in which your future relies. Beautiful coming of age story and I hope to read more from the author as time continues on. 💚 thank you for sharing Malo!!!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kristin Boldon

    This memoir would be a good companion to The Hate U Give, for a real life narrative of a kid growing up in a big city, trying to connect with family while navigating pressures. The ending felt a bit rushed and pat, and while I appreciated the contrast of the mom's journal entries, I wondered how "really real" they were.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin Merryman-Smith

    This book is like getting punched in the face, it hits you. The book Buck By M.K. Asante is a truthful book about a young man growing up in the rough part of Philadelphia, it really hits you with the fact that life is cruel but you can always rise above all your pain and hardship and become a wiser, stronger person. I recommend reading this book it is very inspirational.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Liz Mauk

    The audio book read by the author is pure gold. Do yourself a favor and listen to him read his work.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Aaron S

    2.5 stars.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sir Darwin(Miles

    I recommend Buck for Gang Philosophy and free book at BHS Library. Writing style includes rap artists quotes and unique story telling the tale of Malo overcoming gang life.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Cydne B

    Exceptional. Compelled me to mentally and emotionally experience situations and circumstances I had never experienced in my life.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Shantel Nubia

    "They examine me intensely, looking for "Damage." The damage you are looking for has always been there.What you are seeing now is Survival." BUCK is a memoir of MK Asante's personal journey through the concrete jungle of the inner city. But when I read this piece, I couldn't help but feel that I was reading my own diary or a close friend's. You see BUCK speaks for Our Generation; the Post-Hip Hop Generation. I can relate and feel the hopelessness of Malo (Young MK) when he witnesses his brother "They examine me intensely, looking for "Damage." The damage you are looking for has always been there.What you are seeing now is Survival." BUCK is a memoir of MK Asante's personal journey through the concrete jungle of the inner city. But when I read this piece, I couldn't help but feel that I was reading my own diary or a close friend's. You see BUCK speaks for Our Generation; the Post-Hip Hop Generation. I can relate and feel the hopelessness of Malo (Young MK) when he witnesses his brother Uzi being sentenced to years in jail. I saw my own mother taken away in handcuffs when I was a little girl about 8 or 9 getting ready for school. Whether I visited my mother in Rikers Island or Upstate NY, I always felt like Malo; who said "I wish I was a Black Panther right now." I relate to Malo's Love for Hip Hop too. I remember how I felt the first time I Really listened to 2pac. When I was about 14 I heard the lyrics from 2pac-Dear Mama blasting on the radio ~And who'd think in elementary I'd see the penitentiary one day... It was Hell hugging on my Momma from a Jail Cell~. Similar to Malo I was hooked and used Hip Hop to keep my mind sane. Now there were other parts of BUCK that felt like I was reading a close friends diary. Police Brutality, Gang initiation, violence, drugs, sex, and poverty were all similar situations my friends and I face in the present as well as the past. BUCK not only tells it "like it is", but shows you positive possibilities of what Life can be. Malo went from Hu$tling drugs on the streets to becoming a legit entrepreneur by investing and selling vending machines at his High School. Malo witnessed the raw destruction of the Game when his hu$tling friend was willing to sell drugs to his grandmother. Or when Malo experiences near death experiences in the streets yet rises like a Rose Grown From Concrete because of his own passion, compassion, and wits. When reading BUCK you'll not only get to understand the experience of the Hip Hop Generation in inner cities, you'll get read about it in a poetic form that reminds me of the impact of Richard Wright's Native Son. #NuffRespect to MK ASANTE for turning is observation into a obligation by poetically telling a true story of the struggles those in the inner-city. His passion has driven his obligation and he is now an award winning writer, film maker, hip hop artist, and Professor at Morgan State University. Inlakesh MK ASANTE[a Mayan Proverb which means "I am because you are"]. Thank you for telling Your Incredible Story which is Our Story. I hope we all get to rize and see the Pyramids like you did! EVERYONE GET YOUR COPY OF BUCK TODAY!!!

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