"Allen’s rendering of the material is visceral and unique, and her insights are powerful. . . . A piercing coming-of-age narrative from an original voice." — Kirkus Reviews
“Fruit Punch is a deeply visceral, vividly written tale of how to both survive and honor a complicated family. Kendra Allen has given us a loving memoir full of deep truths, dramatic moments, and undeniably gorgeous prose—how lucky we are to have her talents in the world.” — Jami Attenberg, author of I Came All This Way to Meet You and The Middlesteins
"A stunning and original memoir about Black girlhood and coming of age. Allen is both storyteller and poet, observing the world with curiosity and humor. Fruit Punch is simultaneously brilliant cultural commentary and an intimate portrayal of family and community, and it will stay with me for a long, long time." — Jaquira Díaz, author of Ordinary Girls
“Ntozake Shange implored, ‘Somebody, anybody, sing a black girl's song,’ and in Fruit Punch, Kendra Allen sings fiercely for all of us who have been shattered and disregarded, and yet somehow press on. Stunning, poetic, and absolutely devastating, this book broke and healed my heart.” — Deesha Philyaw, author of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies
"Wholly original and unsparing...Allen’s prowess comes through in her blunt rendering of the powerlessness she struggled against as a Black woman navigating race and sexuality in the South...Indeed, the narrative rarely lets up in its frank or discomfiting depictions, but it yields a refreshingly authentic look at what it means to create oneself in a contradictory world." — Publishers Weekly
“Allen bestows a fresh literary voice on this memoir filled with humor, honesty, and thought-provoking truth…readers will enjoy Allen's intimate writing and the wit she weaves in between epiphanies. With admirable and inspiring vulnerability, Allen brings readers along in her journey to understand her very makeup. Life doesn't grant happy endings, she reminds us; but rather a revolving door of growth and self-reflection.” — Booklist
“[P]owerful…[Allen's] writing is filled with insight and humor, and provides a nuanced representation of often-marginalized voices.” — Washington Post
“As she reflects on her complicated yet loving relationship with her family, Allen beautifully weaves in issues of race, class, and gender.” — The Root
"A strong, unflinching memoir." — Book Riot
"Sensitive and lyrical...Writing in masterfully composed vignettes as vivid and fleeting as real memories, Allen excavates the anger, powerlessness and wonder she experienced as a young Black girl learning to navigate the world...A hauntingly precise meditation...Truly dazzling...A startling, unique and deeply poetic work from a writer on the rise." — BookPage, starred review
"What I love about Allen’s writing is the way it seems to mirror the inside of someone’s brain — equal parts poetry, memory, logic, and the fuzzy spaces in between...the stories of her experience as a Black child and woman are worth what they ask of the reader." — Chapter16.org
“There are no tropes or platitudes here; Allen exhibits the same assertiveness and transparency that she showed in her previous books…Complete with ’90s-baby cultural references to Morgan Freeman and Mary J. Blige, the book is a reading experience all its own, holding the reader at an emotional distance, even as it stings. Its fire may be unrelenting, but readers should push themselves to take the heat.” — New York Times
Allen, a millennial author of essays and poetry, is making a space in the literary conversation (When You Learn the Alphabet). Here she offers a memoir of her Dallas childhood and its adult repercussions. It reads like a stream of consciousness work of her child-self, grasping at concepts just beyond her understanding but processing them as best she can as she grows. She reacts to the adults around her and describes traumatic events from her childhood in ways that a child would, making the reader not quite recognize what has happened until the realization drops suddenly. The point-blank observations of her younger self cut to the core with their honesty. The memoir is not told chronologically but builds circularly, revealing more of the writer and her background from different angles. It's a penetrating look at life with divorce, sexual assault, crushes, family strife, and school drama all factoring in. The conversational tone, with poetic cadences, help the reader quickly engage and understand the writer's background and culture. VERDICT This memoir is troubling and difficult at times, but also candid and familiar. Recommended for general collections.—Amanda Ray
A Black woman’s unflinching look at her childhood and adolescence in Texas in the 1990s.
Allen, the author of the acclaimed essay collection, When You Learn the Alphabet, grew up in the Dallas area with her father, Doll, and her mother, L.A., who broke up and got back together several times throughout her childhood and adolescence. “Men are jealous” is one of the first lessons her mother taught her, although her parents’ split was catalyzed by Doll’s infidelity. One night, long after her father moved to Houston, Allen woke up to L.A. and Doll having sex in the bed where she was sleeping. Most children, she writes, “don’t expect to see their married parents who live in two different cities and in two different residences having sex in the middle of a school night in the bed the child shares with their single mother.” However, the reconciliation didn’t last. As Allen and her mother felt increasingly alone, the author tried to “help L.A. raise me by growing up and entering into some typa sister-wives union.” Later, she asked L.A. if they could attend therapy sessions because they were “too codependent.” Throughout, the author uses prose inventively, employing vernacular language, nontraditional line breaks, nonlinear chronology, and deliberate obfuscation about her age. In a key moment in the book, Allen writes about how she was sexually assaulted by a family member and describes herself as “nine, but probably seven.” Later, the author describes relating memories of her childhood to an unnamed male therapist, who prompted her to share her childhood trauma with her mother (whose response was underwhelming). Allen’s rendering of the material is visceral and unique, and her insights are powerful. Sometimes, however, the framing device of the therapy sessions has the unintended effect of highlighting how certain passages are more confessional than narratively compelling.
A piercing coming-of-age narrative from an original voice.