Tiffany D. Jackson’s books have been on my radar from some time now. Her books tackle true stories in a fictional way – usually to highlight the underlying racism in society. Grown is no different. So today I’m going to be talking about Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson. In particular what it’s about, what I loved about it and why you should read it.
Many thanks to Harper360 for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I was drawn to this book for a number of reasons. First of all, because I wanted to devour all of Jackson’s books. But secondly, the story itself really appealed to me.
I knew from an early age that I wanted to go into music. Music was the blood pulsing through my veins, keeping me alive. And since I wasn’t pretty enough or talented enough, I went to uni to study music management. But what I learnt about the industry scared me out of pursuing that lifelong dream of mine.
In this industry, you’re not an individual. You are the property of whoever you work for. It’s as simple as that. If you don’t like it, there are hundreds of other people desperate to be where you are. The entire industry is built on psychological manipulation.
Grown also stood out to me as someone I knew was a victim like Enchanted. She entered a relationship with a well-known musician in her early teens. Got caught up in stuff that a young girl shouldn’t be caught up in. But unlike the case that Grown is based on, that musician is in prison serving a long sentence. This might be fiction to me (or you) but it’s important to remember that it’s someone else’s lived experience.
With that in mind, I feel that it’s both important and necessary to talk about the true story behind Grown before I share my review.
Ripped From the Headlines
Since I knew so little about the case, I wanted to educate myself before tackling my review of Grown. This was very important to me. Because as I’ve said before, this book might be fiction but the story itself is someone else’s real life. This is a story that needs to be heard. It needs to be compulsory reading for teenage girls. Because this thing happens too often. And not just in the music industry, in the quiet corners of everyday life too.
Now Grown is inspired by the R. Kelly case which I knew nothing about. It angers me actually. Because when I was studying, we focused a lot on defamation and not at all on artists actually being criminals. We were being groomed as the next generation of music industry professionals and taught that our duty was to protect and defend our clients. So can I believe that all these people around R. Kelly knew about his sexual misconduct and said nothing? You bet I can.
So I watched the Surviving R. Kelly documentary and I was both shocked and horrified. How on earth has he been getting away with it for three decades? Like, what even. And the more horrific answer to that question is not simply that survivors weren’t believed. It’s that the system didn’t care because the victims were black. The point is echoed in both real life and the book: if it had been white girls who were being groomed and essentially kidnapped by a celebrity, the outcome would have been very different. For one, it wouldn’t have taken so long and it wouldn’t have required a documentary to come out to spur an actual investigation. I honestly can’t believe it how much the system failed these girls and their families.
By Tiffany D. Jackson
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Date of Publication: 15th September 2020
Genre: YA Contemporary
Format: Paperback (372 pages)
A black teen who dreams of musical stardom is seduced by an A-list celebrity who promises to make her dreams a reality. But when he becomes more controlling, it quickly descends into a nightmare. Oh, and she’s just woken up to find her mentor dead. But did she kill him?
Gaslighting, abuse, sexual assault, rape, emotional/psychological manipulation and blackmail, violence, victim blaming, mental health, controlling behaviour, drug use, addiction, references to alcohol, kidnapping, paedophilia, misogyny and racism
Grown is essential reading. It’s deep, impactful and incredibly relevant. While its themes are pretty heavy, the writing itself is not. It was written in such a lyrical way that the story flowed so flawlessly. The fact that sentences, paragraphs and chapters were all relatively short only added to how accessible this book is to read. There are no huge chunks of text that tire out the eyes which allows you to lose yourself in the story. And what a powerful and tense story it is.
One of the first things I loved about Grown is that content warnings are provided at the start of the book. *cheers* As a highly sensitive person with more triggers than I know what to do with, this is really important to me. So thank you for that!
Now Grown is told in a sort of mixed media format. I haven’t been too keen on this style beforehand as I find it quite disorientating? But here it genuinely added depth. Being able to see how the outside world was processing what was happening to Enchanted in parallel to her own perspective was phenomenal. It built tension at exactly the right moments and highlighted themes of racism and victim blaming. I loved it, I thought it worked really well in this context.
Another thing that I really enjoyed is that it’s also kind of a mystery. As we learn more about Korey’s abuse, we’re still questioning who killed him. Was it Enchanted? And if so, surely it’d be considered self-defence? Or was it someone else entirely for other unknown reasons? That said, I often lost myself in the story so much that I forgot about the who killed Korey part. (That’s a testament to how great this book is because I love a mystery.)
Theme-wise, it was intense. Not in a bad way. Just that it’s multifaceted so there’s a lot going on both on the page and between the lines. I’d say the predominant one is how it tackles racism alongside sexual abuse. This is largely to demonstrate the injustices that women of colour who are victims face and how that differs to white victims. It’s an indisputable fact and it shouldn’t be the case. I mean if you think again about the case this is based on and how justice still hasn’t been served after three decades. As someone who is 30, it baffles me that despite allegations spanning my entire lifetime, this man still hasn’t been tried yet.
Jackson also examines the dark side of fandom. Of not believing victims because fans don’t want to accept the idea that their idols could be bad people. Then you’ve got the media who paint victims as liars or simply as opportunists using false allegations to gain either fame or money. And you’ve also got the people who work closely with artists like Korey who turn a blind eye to indiscretions. This isn’t fictional, these are real things that we can see just by going onto Twitter on any given day.
But there’s another theme here that’s equally important to the story: age differences in relationships. If you’ve seen Tiffany D. Jackson’s He Knew Better promotional video, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Korey is obviously much older than Enchanted. He is an adult and she is a child. And he kind of convinces her that it’s okay for them to have this secret relationship by referencing Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey – both books that fetishize age differences in relationships. And that’s something that needs to be talked about more, for sure.
Okay so I loved Enchanted. As we are both the eldest of five children, I could relate to the weight of responsibility that she feels growing up and kind of feeling less able to detach what you want from what others need from you. And if I’m honest, at her age I desperately wanted to get into the music industry so yeah, I could have been just as easily seduced as she was.
She’s also such a headstrong protagonist and I loved that she never really lost that part of herself even as she became compliant. One thing I really loved was that Jackson never portrayed her as this naïve misguided little girl. She took the opportunity to make it explicitly clear that when you’re young, you don’t see abuse as abuse especially when it’s disguised as love. You really feel Enchanted’s heartbreak as she comes to realise that she is a victim. And then again when she feels that she’s solely responsible for proving her innocence when society has already decided she’s guilty.
On the other hand, Korey is going up there as the most believable villain of 2020. He is a monster. Even from his first appearance, he made my skin crawl. He’s literally the fictional embodiment of every bad experience I’ve ever had with guys all rolled into one. At 30, I can recognise those warning signs. As a teen, you don’t have a catalogue of bad experiences to guide your intuition. And I think that’s why I feel so strongly that this book needs to find its way into the hands of every teenage girl.
- Based on a true story
- Impactful and relevant
- Oozes tension
- Strong main character
- Powerful and lyrical writing
- Mixed media format
Read this if You…
- Love Tiffany D. Jackson’s books
- Like books that are inspired by true stories
- Are interested in the dark side of the music industry
- Are a teenage girl (Please!)
So that was my review of Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson. It really is such an important and timely read, I can’t stress that enough so please do consider picking up a copy. It’s out now in the UK and should be available from your preferred book retailer.
Have you read any books by Tiffany D. Jackson? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.