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Do I Dare Disturb the Universe? by Charlise Lyles

By Akhirnya | Books | February 8, 2011 |

By Akhirnya | Books | February 8, 2011 |

This memoir details the life of Charlise Lyles, an Ohio school-reform journalist and writer, as she grows up in the projects of Cleveland during the race riots and decline of the city in the 1960s and 1970s. Interested in urban education and having just returned to Cleveland myself, I’ve been shocked by city’s racial tension, tanked economy, failing schools, and corruption. If I had a dime for every time I heard about the ‘good old days,’ I’d be rich and living in another state. Lyles’ memoir is an enthralling slice-of-life look at what the city once was, what it has become, and what life was like and continues to be for those in the forgotten projects.

Her thirst for knowledge is sparked by the intellectual musings of her alcoholic father, whose closet reading eventually inspired her to move from the remedial courses to the top of the class at Kennard Junior High of the King-Kennedy projects. Lyles is chosen for the A Better Chance scholarship program, which provides for her education at nearby Hawken prep school. Although still near the city, Lyles has to move in with a teacher across town so she can more easily get to and from Hawken.

The book details Lyles issues with identity and her struggle to fit in. The politics of racial equality - the black militants that brought order to the projects vs. the idealism of her mother - tumble within Lyles as she grapples with what it is to be an Afro-American woman. At Hawken, she deals with the sexism and racism of her classmates and teachers, while trying to overcome the gap in her education. When home, she never quite fits back in with the friends she has intellectually left behind. Eventually she does figure out who she is and how she sees herself, and Do I Dare Disturb the Universe? paints a deeply intimate portrait of what it was for her to grow up and define herself. It was an engrossing read and highly recommended.

For more of Akhirnya’s reviews, check out the CBR-III blog.

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