About the Book:
What does it mean to belong? In a place? With a person? To a family? Where do our senses of security and survival lie? I Don’t Belong Here ruthlessly investigates alienation during moments of transit and dislocation and their impact on women’s identity. These twenty essays—ranging from conventional to lyrical to experimental in form and structure—delve into the root causes of personal uncertainty and the aftershock effects of being a woman in an unsafe world. Provocative, authentic, intimate, and uncompromising, Melissa Grunow casts light on the unspeakable: sexuality, death, mental illness, trauma, estrangement, and disillusionment with precision and fortitude
Memoir is not something I read a lot of, although I’ve been trying to remedy that over the past few years with books such as Wild and The Glass Castle. I even took a course with Grunow a few months ago on writing creative nonfiction so I could sharpen my own skills. I was curious to see how her teaching style related to her own work, and I wasn’t disappointed.
First of all, I love the theme of the book; after all, who here doesn’t relate to feelings of isolation and not fitting in? I Don’t Belong Here is divided into four distinct sections: “Unspoken,” “Displaced,” “Suppressed” and “Misunderstood.” She describes the death of a part of herself after a violent sexual assault by a boyfriend in the piece “Before and After.” The description of her experience is so painfully raw and honest that the reader wants to weep along with her.
In “Fire and Water” Grunow dives into the differences between the destruction fire and floods can cause to a home, and an analysis of the impact each one leaves behind. “A flood is worse than a fire,” a co-worker tells her. “After a flood, you’ll worry whenever it rains.” She describes the damage a heavy rain and flood caused to her home in Michigan, and the effect of storms and tornados in her childhood years living in a mobile home. Grunow reminisces about riding her bike with her childhood friends, picking up the metal skirting from mobile homes that was blown about, balancing the pieces on her handlebars and cutting her knees as she pedaled. Anything, everything, can cut something else, she remembers.
Grunow’s writing is rich, lyrical, and draws parallels the one would never even think of, making for a savory reading experience. She digs deep into her own psyche while exploring her decision to get multiple tattoos during her college years.
I give workshops, presentations, trainings, all as a professional who appears professional. Underneath those layers, though, my skin sings a different song, a ballad of many verses comprised of love, pain, mistakes, imprinted memories. I could especially relate to the piece titled “We’re All Mad Here: A Field Guide to Feigning Sanity,” where she writes about doctors, You will burn through doctors the way a middle school girl burns through crushes.
I highly recommend “I Don’t Belong Here,” whether you’re looking to dive deeper into the world of memoirs and creative nonfiction, or seeking ideas for how to expand your own writing. There is much to dissect here, and I promise you by the last page, you will be ready to take a good, hard look at your own imprinted memories and how they have shaped your world.
About Melissa Grunow:
Melissa Grunow is the author of I Don’t Belong Here: Essays (New Meridian Arts Press, 2018) and Realizing River City: A Memoir(Tumbleweed Books, 2016) which won the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Memoir, the 2017 Silver Medal in Nonfiction-Memoir from Readers’ Favorite International Book Contest, and Second Place-Nonfiction in the 2016 Independent Author Network Book of the Year Awards. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, The Nervous Breakdown, Two Hawks Quarterly, New Plains Review, and Blue Lyra Review, among many others. Her essays have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net and listed in the Best American Essays 2016 notables. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction with distinction from National University. Visit her website at www.melissagrunow.com or follow her on Twitter @melgrunow.
Because I like to write young adult fiction, I also read a lot of it, too. I’m not crazy about dystopian literature or fantasy titles and gravitate more toward contemporary topics. I think this is what drew me to novelist John Green several years ago. I started hearing people talk about how great The Fault in Our Stars was, and then I saw it had been optioned for a movie. It was then that I picked up the book and starting reading the tale of Hazel Grace (cancer patient) and Augustus (cancer survivor). I cried for hours after finishing it and loved the movie just as much.
From there I read Looking for Alaska, which I believe has been banned from some schools. If you’re like me, if something is banned from a school, I definitely want to read it! From there I went on to An Abundance of Katherines, which was a great concept but I couldn’t really get into it. Then I heard Paper Towns was being made into a movie with scenes shot in the city I live in, so I read it next. I knew Green had been busy for several years working on the development of two films, which was exciting. Every author’s dream, right? But what I didn’t know was that he was also suffering from a case of writer’s block trying to produce his follow-up to The Fault in the Stars. I got to hear the backstory last night at the “Turtles All the Way Down with John and Hank Green” event last night here in Charlotte, N.C.
I feel fortunate that I even heard about the event. I happened to be scrolling through Facebook one day and saw Green post a tour schedule with the comment, “I’ve been told these events might sell out quickly.” I clicked on the schedule, saw Charlotte on it, and immediately went to buy tickets. I was also shocked when I saw the ticket price of $21 included a signed copy of his new book, Turtles All the Way Down. Talk about a deal! (The event did indeed sell out quickly.) The tour includes John and his brother Hank, who I have to admit is very lovable. Together, they join forces to produce the popular YouTube channel, Vlogbrothers.
First of all, the venue was beautiful. The theater at Spirit Square was intimate, with red upholstered seats and stained glass windows surrounding us. There wasn’t a bad seat in the house, which was good because our tickets were general admission. We chose a seat in the middle and had no problem seeing.
The evening started with us receiving swag tote bags that listed the 19 cities on this tour (I feel special), our signed copies of the book, a booklet with some letters from John Green, a bookmark, a cardboard poster of the tour, and some post-its.
I brought my 14-year-old daughter along and as a self-proclaimed nerd, I’m pretty sure she had more fun than I did. John began the evening with a reading from the book, and then in a slightly shaky voice, discussed his lifelong battle with OCD. The main character in the novel has OCD so this book is very near and dear to his heart. Then we got a science lecture on Phylogenetics and Taxonomy from Dr. Lawrence Turtleman, a comical turn from Hank Green. The two brothers also took questions from the audience members (you could fill out a form on the way in) and Hank performed a few songs—my daughter’s favorite was “The Universe was Weird.”
The event lasted an hour and a half, and time flew by. I can hardly wait to dig into Green’s new novel, which is already getting rave reviews from some of the major media outlets. Tonight, John and Hank are headed to Asheville to the UNC-Asheville, my old alma mater, and I’m sure they will be just as well received.
Hearing John’s personal story, learning about the book, and joining the cause to fight against the stigma of mental illness also made me itching to get back in front of my computer to write.
Thank you, John and Hank, for a fun and inspired evening.