From her life as an abused child and young adult to her transformation into a criminal justice-reform activist, a woman recounts her self-reinvention in prison, where she served more than 25 years for her role in a kidnapping and second-degree murder.
Hylton, formerly known as inmate #86G0206, begins her gripping memoir with her earliest memory. A young toddler, she’s being tossed high in her mother’s arms while she and her mother laugh. Then she is falling, cracking her head hard on concrete: her mother dropped her on purpose ... However, despite the horrific events in Hylton’s early life, her book, written with coauthor Gasbarre, tells a tale far beyond tragedy. It is a meditation on redemption and learning to love and forgive, because she found her true self in the darkest of all places—prison.
Hylton endured so much suffering that swaths of the read take summary form. While her traumas are gut-wrenching, she keeps a reserved distance from the most lurid details and focuses more on her survival techniques (which largely involved blacking out) and destroyed self-worth. The result is a wide-angle-lens shot of how abuse impacts women over the course of their lives. While any yearlong period of her journey is book-worthy, Hylton condenses her experiences into one read. In doing so, her life stands as a case study illustrating how prison reform efforts and support for women in abusive situations can transform individual lives and society.
It is the rare as-told-to book, or one created in collaboration with an author-for-hire, that is well-written, but A Piece of Light is filled with a superfluity of penny-dreadful prose. The title is fine, but after it is repeated and re-explained half a dozen times, the reader finds herself asking what editors are for ... Chapters 3 and 4 recount, in a disorderly style, the grisly crime for which Hylton was imprisoned ... Once in prison, she tells us that 'very often, when a crime is committed, it’s because a marginalized person is really just looking for an opportunity to improve his or her life.' Really? ... Hylton has paid a high price for her role in a horrific crime. It is easier to wish her well than it is to admire her memoir.