I started reading this and got a few chapters in when I decided to DNF it. I like the writing style and the subject is interesting, but I felt uncomfortable with a book so much about transness being written from a cis point of view.
“Diary Of A Misfit” is part memoir and part investigative reporting. It’s all about people who don’t feel like they fit in anywhere.
Author Casey Parks first discovered Roy Hudgens when her grandmother mentioned the neighbor who played and wrote music and was rumored to be a female who dressed in male clothing, which made them an anomaly in the neighborhood. A journalist, Casey decided to learn more about the morphodite and make a documentary film about Roy. However, neighbors were slow to open up. Also, Casey had to navigate her own feelings and trauma over visiting her homophobic hometown. She also struggled with her relationship with her mother, who stumbled upon her husband and daughter while she was grieving, was later raped, and wrestled with addictions her whole life.
I appreciated the story about Roy and thought the book would be more about him. I wish he would have been the star.
And while Casey is open about her struggles, I skipped over many parts of her story. However, I did feel her emotions about being ostracized from church where the pastor wished she would be taken rather than live as a lesbian. I also identified with Casey’s inner work to figure out how or if she wanted to return to a church building or her childhood faith and how she wanted to engage with her mother.
The ending offers an excellent summary of this book’s message. One person who agreed to talk to Casey and her film crew “believed Roy’s story could help people. Somewhere out there, in other small towns, there was probably a misfit who felt alone in the world. That person needed to know Roy existed.” And another witness declared that “society was robbed of potential. How many potentials does our society rob by bullying and treating people like Royce was treated?”
While this book wasn’t as engaging as I hoped, I do appreciate the message. It’s an important story that can help readers embrace and practice empathy for all the misfits.
Diary of a Misfit: A Memoir and a Mystery – Casey Parks - 2022 –
In her beautifully written multi-layered debut, Casey Parks chronicles her coming-of-age as a gay teen to the present time. From the pulpit, some bible belt preachers condemned LGBTQ people—resulting in shunning by their families and community. From the 1920’s, Casey Parks poor sharecropping family followed the cotton growers south until the picking was done by heavy machinery. People that remained in Delhi, Louisiana were hard-working and proud— including Roy Delois Hudgins (1925-2006), a landscaper, that lived with his animals in a ramshackle house and played music to entertain others from his front porch. According to Parks grandmother, Roy was actually a woman, his singing was the best music she had ever heard and always wondered whatever happened to him? Parks began to investigate Roy’s story.
By 2010, Parks had completed her college education and had accepted a newspaper job in the Pacific Northwest reporting for the Oregonian, hoping to attain career advancement in writing feature stories about Southern history and culture. Roy’s story was especially intriguing, he was highly regarded in his community, though he quit attending church services when told he would need to wear a dress. Roy unexpectedly passed away in a nursing facility under suspicious circumstances, everyone remembered him fondly. After almost a decade and many trips to Delhi, Parks examined Roy’s public records, interviewed the local historian and others suspicious of outsiders. Parks had to earn their trust and of a superstitious friend and neighbor to access Roy’s notebooks, papers and photographs. Two of Parks associates volunteered to assist in editing and filming the documentary at their own expense. Larger film sponsors were uninterested in the project, awards and funding were scarce.
Big Pharma is regularly held accountable for a major role in the U.S. opioid drug epidemic. In addition, black box warnings on benzodiazepines weren’t issued until 2020. Parks truthfully and painfully related the impact of substance abuse within her own family without mention of these powerful outside forces. Parks felt her mother initially rejected her due to homophobia—yet, Parks avoided and rejected her mother on many levels due to her substance abuse. Considering the conflicted mother-daughter dynamic, this seemed to be (understandably) a measure of self-protection. To her credit, Parks mother attended Parks impressive wedding ceremony and reception when she and her wife Frankie were married (2015). With Parks documentation of the past surrounding Roy’s life combined with her own story, we may reach a better and compassionate understanding of others and the connections we all universally share. ** With thanks to Alfred A. Knopf via NetGalley for the DDC for the purpose of review.
3.5 rounded up
Inspired by the stories and journalistic style of This American Life (now more widely known as the public radio show/podcast behind the hit true crime podcast Serial), Casey Parks was inspired by stories her grandma had told her about a local from her rural southern hometown known as Roy, and decided to return to investigate Roy's life to shed more light on his story - whilst also grappling with her own identity and revisiting memories of being a young woman from a religious background who came out as a lesbian in college.
Whilst I think it could have done with a much tighter edit and a bit more in-depth interrogation into the author's own family and their dynamics (some things felt skirted over to me or not delved into far enough), I found this to be an engaging and compelling read overall. The book is definitely more heavy on the memoir element about Casey Parks's own life (and that of her mother) rather than Roy's, so that's worth bearing in mind.
Thanks to Netgalley for an ARC: This is a beautiful, complex book exploring ambiguity, ambivalence, dichotomy. Parks is an accomplished journalist --something I only learned after reading--and she chronicles her slow acceptance of her sexuality, her family and her love for the South while also not feeling welcomed or accepted. Her grandmother, after her mother reacts in horror at the news that she is gay, tells her of a woman who lived as a man: Roy and who was kind. Parks slowly documents and explores Roy's life and in the process explores her own life. At one point, her master's advisor asked if Roy's story is enough for a book--something I did wonder myself. Parks complex relationships with her mother, her grandmother, her extended family, her sexual identity and sense of self are all examined via the life of Roy. Ultimately, the book is a triumph of delving into a story and achieving hard won acceptance while embracing uncertainty and complexity.
Powerful as this is as a work of memoir alone, this compelling, thoughtful read is equally a thoughtful, interesting exploration of the Deep South, the opioid crisis, being queer in rural poverty in the United States and the practice of journalism. I will be recommending it to our audiences.
As much as I wanted to like this book, I felt it got bogged down in unnecessary details so often that it became a bit of a slog. I found the writing so unfocused at times that I wasn’t sure whose story was being told or what the purpose of the memoir was.
Sending book love for Diary of a Misfit. This is a vital read and I appreciate the vulnerability (and gifted storytelling) of Casey Parks.
Diary of a Misfit
by Casey Parks
Pub Date: August 23, 2022
Thanks to the author, publisher, and Netgalley for the ARC of this book.
Part memoir, part sweeping journalistic saga: As Casey Parks follows the mystery of a stranger's past, she is forced to reckon with her own sexuality, her fraught Southern identity, her tortured yet loving relationship with her mother, and the complicated role of faith in her life.
I found this book to be really interesting. Would gender identities be different today?
I read this incredible book all in one sitting last night. I was completely absorbed in the narration -- and I can't stop thinking about it. I wish I could give all my friends a copy right now. This will be thrust into the hands of many!
I really wanted more writing about Roy(her/himself) as I read this book. The author is trying desperately to find out more about their life while also coming to terms with her own sexuality. The depiction of society during that time period is very realistic. I found myself thinking that some things have changed regarding gender fluidity but many things have not. Interesting read.