Cover Image: My Name Is Why

My Name Is Why

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

Heart wrenching, heartbreaking, a true tearjerker that at the same time evoked a feeling of injustice that should not exist.
Although it was a hard read, I loved that I had the opportunity to do so. We need more voices like Sissay.

Thank you Netgalley for this copy in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
“Look what was sown by the stars At night across the fields I am not defined by scars But by the incredible ability to heal”
.
.
.
Lemn was taken into “care” as a baby. Born to an Ethiopian mother who tried, on more than one occasion, to reclaim her baby, Lemn was fostered out to a family in Lancashire and became “Norman Greenwood” for the first twelve years of his life. Shockingly, at the age of 12, his foster parents return him to the care of the “Authority”


After thirty years of trying to get his state records, Lemn received “four thick folders of documents.” As the reader, we see Lemn’s journey in care through the use of his records in his memoir, interspersed with his memories, commentary, testimony and poetry


Care seems ta strange word to use of a system that contained rather than nurtured, suppressed rather than encouraged and disciplined rather than loved. Lemn writes, “How does a government steal a child and then imprison him? How does it keep it a secret? This story is how”


Lemn’s memoir is heavy with anger and loss, but is testament to the spirit of a boy who, despite losing everything, survived and became one of the UK’s best-loved poets. Huge thanks to CannonGate books and NetGalley for my copy
Was this review helpful?
I really congratulate Lemn for being so brave and sharing his story. This was a heartbreaking read that puts a spotlight on the horrendous treatment of children in social care facilities in the UK. I enjoyed the short chapters and I found the supporting images of the actual social care reports really unique. A wonderful eye opening memoir!
Was this review helpful?
My Name is Why is both beautiful and heartbreaking. I loved the contrast of the clinical reports and documents mixed with Lemn Sissay's deeply personal recollections of his youth. The short four line poems in the beginning of each chapter were utterly breathtaking! Sissay's precise words evoke palable emotions with both articulate and artistic flare. His observations and realisations of his past weaves in discussions racism and disfunction of both people and institutions in a very natural and accessible. Lemn Sissay's empathy and emotional intelligence leaves me in awe. 

I highly recommend reading My Name is Why but I'd warn it is rather emotionally taxing. As someone with anxiety and depression it left me fatigued and in tears. So be prepared if you are fragile like me.
I look forward to reading more of Sissay's poetry in the future 

I received an arc in exchange for an honest review from Netgalley
Was this review helpful?
My Name is Why presents a powerful look at the foster care system in the UK, and to go one step further, all of the child care systems world wide which are more intent with the care and feeding of the bureaucracy of the system rather than the children they are meant to care for.

It is no wonder that a majority of children coming up through these systems have little sense of self, self-worth, and little idea where they can fit in to the society and culture around them.

How we treat the weakest and most vulnerable among us speaks to both our personal and national/societal character. Shame on us!

My thanks to NetGalley and Canongate Books for allowing me to read an advance copy of this memoir which is scheduled to be published 1/26/2021. All opinions expressed here are my own.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this book in exchange for an honest review.
This is quite a powerful memoir. It's heartbreaking to read. The inclusion of the files from social services really show how dysfunctional the system is. And to learn of his childhood through those files and memories, without pictures and being let down by so many people including his foster parents, all while facing racism, is incredibly sad. Lemn is such a courageous man.
Was this review helpful?
A very beautifully written, but very heartbreaking read. Really shows how badly the government and authorities can fail people - and as Sissay’s book proves, especially children. Absolutely horrible. Truly outrageous.

Thank you to the author for sharing his story. Thank you to Canongate Books & NetGalley for the ebook in exchange for an honest opinion.
Was this review helpful?
I loved this book. It was heart wrenching and honest, charting the story of Lemn’s life from birth until he leaves care age 18. It left me with a lot of questions, all good, what happens next in his life? What about his birth mother?  I just had to google h8m to find out. I thoroughly recommend this book. Thanks NetGalley!
Was this review helpful?
My Name Is Why is undoubtedly a phenomenal book. It is one that I chose to read slowly because I did not want it to end. Although the author, Lemn Sissay, was introduced to great pain, he showed great strength. Rejection, racism, and deep untruths was a constant in his childhood. However, his love endured despite the unrequited love met from others. Sissay reminds the reader of the unnerving reality many children in foster homes face, and the necessity for change in protocol, leadership, and care. This book is a must read. I hope My Life Is Why leaves readers inspired to undergo their own self-reflection of love, care, and understanding as well as, make positive changes within their communities.
Was this review helpful?
Interesting memoir about Lemn Sissay growing up. I found the original documents used fascinating! Thank you to @netgalley for the arc.
Was this review helpful?
Many readers will have heard of the poet Lemn Sissay and may have heard him perform. Few may have realised that he was “raised” through the “care system” and still carries huge scars from this life. But in the midst of his later years there he started to turn to poetry to ground himself – and it is that deep creativity and voice that is used in this memoir to tell the realities and casual brutalities he encountered. Knowing little about his family background, after many years he managed to access his 18 years of “official records”. Copies of those are given in this book, as he transcribes the texts for the reader he also talks to his experiences – the parallel reality of his life that ran alongside them.
This is not a comfortable read. Lemn (a child of several different names) who was born in 1967 to an Ethiopian mother and an unnamed father spent his early days in a “mother and baby home” in the North West. When his mother returned to Ethiopia without agreeing to his adoption he fell into the care of the local authority – and a legal limbo where he could not be easily adopted. He was therefore placed in a long term foster placement. Unable to remember anything else this became his “real family” for nearly twelve years. When that placement failed he was moved to a “family unit” and when his behaviour became more erratic, as he challenged the rules and came to the attention of the police, he found himself as a resident in a “reform school” that contained not just the distressed but young remand or convicted residents. This was a locked unit and was run on strictly regulated lines. Lemn did have a supportive social worker who within the resources tried to fight his corner within the constraints of bureaucratic life. He also had the charm and capacity to reach out to people who would help him regardless. Eventually he would acquire his own flat and start to build a positive and creative life for himself. 
But through it all it must be remembered that this was a very different “time”, social “norms” were different and more hide bound, children were expected to be obedient. A lurking issue would be Lemn’s colour, the reactions of people to this, the discriminations. But ultimately his need to find his “family” surfaced and roots that were bedded in a different culture to the one in which he was raised in his early years.
Using the official documents “as was” the reader is immediately taken to a different time with different procedures and understandings. It may be that some older readers will recognise the procedures, rules and processes of that time. They had in many way grown out of Victorian (and older) values. Social workers still had little specialist academic training; experience built promotion was largely experienced based – with men favoured. The hidden elephant in the room would always be finance – not regulated by front line carers. The care system had its own logic at the time, but one that is now seen as seriously outdated and often unfit for purpose and long term well being of the children involved.  Children would be expected to fit in to their placements – and those might not always be suitable. This was trying to make the best of a less than ideal situation a child was in, but there were clear failures and a person only has one life.
By twelve for a variety of reasons Lemn was undoubtedly struggling with his first family placement and was eventually thrown out of it. He talks positively of what was offered to him there, but it is possible to see the pain of this rejection and that he felt that the family ultimately failed him. Families are not of course perfect, many far less than that, even before you encounter one where parent are paid to care for a child. His mixture of loyalty and disillusionment are a telling indictment of the family and how it impacted on him for better and worst. But neither is he slow to admit to the problems that he caused and not only to himself. Bedding this story very firmly in himself as a child growing to adulthood he gives the salutary reminder that the “process” is around the care of real children. Children with all their vulnerabilities and need for security and protection. Yes, he has surmounted the difficulties to become a creative person who reaches out to offer connections and support to other people, often unknown. But the book makes it clear that this is probably through the actions of kind individuals not the institutions he was bedded in – he is what he is “in spite of” not “because of”.  An extraordinary man.
Was this review helpful?
This was an incredibly interesting story of adoption, fostercare and racism. It would have been a much better story if more memories were included and the story didn't rely so much on the case reports. The reports stopped the slow of the story.
Was this review helpful?
As a fellow former inhabitant of Hulme, Manchester, Lemn Sissay was a familiar face around The Crescents and local hangouts, his poetry already starting to send his star into the ascendancy. So it was with much fascination that I picked up his exploration of his childhood - a life spent initially in a foster home, and then a series of care homes. It's heartbreaking stuff - from his growing up calling his foster parents Mum & Dad, to their subsequent rejection of him, throwing him into the care system and a series of increasingly brutal children's homes.
Throughout it all, he documents his search for his own identity and that of his unknown birth parents, with thought-provoking discussions on the meaning of family, race in Britain, the care system, and what it means to have nothing - no home, no name, no identity, no money.... 
It's an incredible story, and his is an extraordinary tale of survival. Inspirational, thought-provoking and a fascinating critique of the rotten state of British Social Services, and an uncaring care system.
Was this review helpful?
Lemn Sissay's memoir recounts his life as a UK child of the state, and his investigations into how he found himself ejected from his foster home at 12 and shepherded around to various childrens' homes. It's a stunning account of perseverance and survival, and provides shocking insight into adoption practices in the UK during the '60s and beyond. This book is at once compelling and poetic. Lemn Sissay's writing is passionate and questioning, and the reader very much feels like they are on this journey to discovery with him. The intercut letters and reports from his social worker, foster parents, 'the authority', and others add such a richness to the narrative, providing historical and emotional context. It's fascinating and frightening, all at once. A truly exceptional book.
Was this review helpful?
Lemn Sissay has an important life story to share. In his memoir, Lemn starts at the beginning, when as a baby his biological mother is forced to place him into foster care. From there, Lemn lives a life jumping from various group homes and eventually a psychiatric ward. This book highlights the racism Lemn experienced growing up, caught in a childcare system that further oppressed him. 

The majority of the book is filled with Lemn’s actual case notes from his file. While I enjoyed reading the actual reports, at times I would have liked to hear Lemn’s voice and heart more. He is a man badly damaged by a system that let him down. His story is heartbreaking. It was hard to connect as closely with Lemn reading report after report.
Was this review helpful?
My Name is Why by Lemn Sissy is a brave , honest and heartbreaking memoir that shows just how badly a young boy was let down by the system and society that was supposed to have his best interest at heart.  I had not read any of the author's poetry before but having read his story and seen the powerful way he uses words I am now keen to do so. I really enjoyed the samples of his poetry that were scattered throughout the book. 
Lemn did not even know his real name until he was seventeen, he was called Norman by the family that fostered him from a young age, and until he sought out his birth certificate he knew nothing about his birth mother or father or how he wound up in the care of social services in the first place, in fact for many years he did not even know he was fostered. Growing up as the only Black child in a white family proved challenging, but for the first twelve or so years Lemn felt loved and accepted by his foster parents, and acted as a big brother to their children, unfortunately  as he entered his teenage years that relationship broke down and he wound up in a care home. Reading about his feelings of abandonment and confusion at this time would melt the hardest of hearts, but I have to admire the clarity with which the author describes them. I was fascinated by the excerpts from the social worker's reports interspersed throughout the book , and how the same situation was described so differently in their accounts when compared to Lemns.  
This short book is one I would highly recommend, with the warning that it will stir your emotions and tug at your heartstrings. 
I read and reviewed an ARC courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher, all opinions are my own.
Was this review helpful?
After years of bouncing around foster care homes, Norman discovers his name is Lemn. So begins his quest for the truth, including a mother who loved him, life as a Black man, and all of the social systems that are designed to oppress him. This memoir reminded me of the importance of duality - Lemn finds love in the middle of heartbreak, determination in the middle of helplessness, and courage in the middle of real fear. A must read.
Was this review helpful?
Thanks to Cannongate and NetGalley for the Advanced Reader's Copy!

Available Jan 26 2021

During summer of 2018, I worked with a foster care agency in Philadelphia, reading through case file after case file, calling guardian after guardian to remind them of upcoming doctors and dentist visits, filling hours in the dusty, moldy quiet offices in the middle of the summer heat. All of this to say that the pain and institutionalized tragedy in Lemn Sissay's "My Name Is Why" is unsurprising and yet emotionally touching. Interspersed with poetry, documentation and narrative, Sissy paints a portrait of growing up as an unwitting Ethiopian adoptee in a primarily white community.

Reading the social worker's reports feels oddly like deja-vu. When Sissay plainly states that "care workers are the most institutionalized", he struck a chord. It is often the agents of the state, the ones who think that they are out to change the system, that become most enamored with the mechanics of their system, unable to see its flaws or perhaps unwilling to change it. Like Sissay, many foster children internalize guilt and long for freedom. Unlike Sissay, most don't find the communities they belong to in the end. Haunting, evocative and education, Sissay's memorial should be read nationwide.
Was this review helpful?
A marvelously written and deeply harrowing account of a man’s forced entry into the foster care system in Britain and the consequences and tyranny of the Authorities of the British government. Extremely illuminating and necessary reading.
Was this review helpful?
Lemn Sissay has chosen to frame his story using the documents, reports and letters about his years in care that he finally managed to get hold of, after a struggle, from the authorities. These documents are reproduced verbatim in facsimile and I found this a remarkably effective way of telling what happened to him. To read these reports, to read what those in charge of this child actually thought and said is a powerful way to explain how someone like Lemn can get caught up in the system and how his own needs could be ignored or not thought relevant. What I particularly admired in this memoir is that there is very little rage or bitterness in evidence – emotions he had every right to feel. And how non-judgemental and balanced is his account. Because on the whole, these people “caring” for him were more misguided than evil, more misunderstanding than wicked and I’m sure never meant to do him any harm. However, harm was done, and all credit to Lemn Sissay that he managed to build a life for himself in spite of his inauspicious beginnings. He pays credit to those who did help him, and even manages to be even-handed when talking of his foster-parents who inexplicably rejected him when he was 12. All in all, this is a triumph of life-writing, and I’m left with an enormous feeling of respect for him. Powerful, moving, thought-provoking and illuminating.
Was this review helpful?