In this coming of age memoir (the winner of the 2019 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction), Jones tells the story of a young, black, gay man from the South as he fights to carve out a place for himself, within his family, within his country, within his own hopes, desires, and fears. Jones draws readers into his boyhood and adolescence—into tumultuous relationships with his family, into passing flings with lovers, friends, and strangers. Each piece builds into a larger examination of race and queerness, power and vulnerability, love and grief: a portrait of what we all do for one another—and to one another—as we fight to become ourselves.
...urgent, immediate, matter of fact ... His title carries an edge of social critique. To be black, gay, and American, the book suggests, is to fight for one’s life ... Like most memoirs, Jones’s is concerned with the construction of identity—with how its narrator resolves or at least reconciles himself to his own contradictions, and with the masks he wears and sets aside ... He often feels doomed and spectral, and yet his writing activates the body ... One gets the impression that Jones relates to an artist formerly known as himself ... 'Being a black gay boy is a death wish.' This fatalism, which exists in contrast to Jones’s uncommon openness and aesthetic ravening, is wrenching. The narrator’s fear and desire swirl into a power fantasy, a vision of subjugating those who would subjugate him ... How We Fight for Our Lives doesn’t belabor Jones’s learning, or his love of language, even as biographical details (he was a speech champion and a star student; he went to graduate school in creative writing) hint at what literature means to him. There is a confidence in refusing to reach for mythic analogues ... Jones’s prose, though, shines with a poet’s desire to give intellections the force of sense impressions ... How We Fight for Our Lives, the two main concerns of which are Jones’s coming of age and his mother’s death, often feels like a complicated working-through of this guilt. But there’s a way in which the book also refutes its own premise. It is a tale of self-making that gives its last pages to Jones’s mom, and spends its most beautiful language on his love for her.
Extremely personal, emotionally gritty, and unabashedly honest, How We Fight for Our Lives is an outstanding memoir that somehow manages a perfect balance between love and violence, hope and hostility, transformation and resentment ... a touching, heartfelt memoir that isn't afraid to delve deep into the darkest corners of familial drama and violent, racially charged sexual encounters. How We Fight for Our Lives, much like the man who wrote it, is full of fear but also brave enough to overcome that fear with sheer will ... While there is a lot to unpack here, there is also a lot to celebrate. Jones writes with the confidence of a veteran novelist and the flare of an accomplished poet. In every event there is truth, which he chronicles and shares, but there is also the possibility of a beautiful phrase, and he always delivers ... is about tenacity and strength. It is the story of a man who lost a mother who was a force of nature and whom readers will grow to love and respect. This is an important coming-of-age story that's also a collection of tiny but significant joys. More importantly, it's a narrative that cements Jones as a new literary star — and a book that will give many an injection of hope.
Jones weaves a series of stinging, memorable vignettes into a powerful coming-of-age memoir. This intimate book, which details his experiences growing up black and gay in the American South, is a required and distinctly singular read ... Through flowing metaphors and dialogue, rich language and deeply personal family stories, we learn about Jones’ struggle for his identity—why he built a suit of invisible armor to protect himself when no one else would ... Almost every passage feels like a fresh, raw wound, ready to leave a scar ... Jones knows that accepting himself in a racist and homophobic world is an act of radical self-love, and this devastating memoir illustrates why such an act is worth the long struggle.