Today’s review is for a self-published, high-appeal personal story. Kemba Smith went from college student to drug dealer’s girlfriend to federal prison. Now she is determined to use her experiences to teach others.
As stated in her bio, Kemba’s story has been featured on CNN, Nightline, “Judge Hatchett,” Court TV, “The Early Morning Show,” and a host of other television programs. It has also been featured in several publications such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, Emerge, JET, Essence,Glamour, and People magazines. Her book was featured at the NAACP Convention in July of this year.
Adult/High School–Young adults who loved Morris’s runaway hit debut novel, Too Beautiful for Words (HarperTrade, 2001) and Cupcake Brown’s internationally best selling memoir A Piece of Cake (Crown, 2006) will find, thankfully, another book to keep them reading. Teens will relate to the words on the cover, “It was easy falling in love with a drug dealer. The hard part was paying for his crimes.” Smith became the “poster child” for the issue of federal mandatory drug sentencing laws, which have placed many low-level, nonviolent, and even inadvertent offenders behind bars for 25 plus years while their drug dealing, murdering, and abusive boyfriends are on the outside continuing their criminal activities. Readers will be hooked from the beginning, which finds 23-years-old Smith giving birth to her first child in jail. The strongest part of the book chronicles how she fell in love with, was seduced and mesmerized by Khalif, the man who ultimately caused her imprisonment. Smith actually made it out: she was granted clemency by President Bill Clinton in 2000 after serving 6 1/2 years of her initial 24 year sentence. Short on analysis and reflection, there isn’t as much depth to the book as some would like, but it is true to the events of her life and story, and provides a good read. Piper Kerman’s memoir Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison (Spiegel & Grau, 2011) is better written, and brings to stark life the reality of many women remaining behind bars, but doesn’t have the teen appeal of Smith’s story.–Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, San Leandro, CA