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Darling Days: A Memoir

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Unfolding in animated, crystalline prose, an emotionally raw, devastatingly powerful memoir of one young woman's extraordinary coming of age—a tale of gender and identity, freedom and addiction, rebellion and survival in the 1980s and 1990s, when punk, poverty, heroin, and art collided in the urban bohemia of New York's Lower East Side. Born into the beautiful bedlam of dow Unfolding in animated, crystalline prose, an emotionally raw, devastatingly powerful memoir of one young woman's extraordinary coming of age—a tale of gender and identity, freedom and addiction, rebellion and survival in the 1980s and 1990s, when punk, poverty, heroin, and art collided in the urban bohemia of New York's Lower East Side. Born into the beautiful bedlam of downtown New York in the eighties, iO Tillett Wright came of age at the intersection of punk, poverty, heroin, and art. This was a world of self-invented characters, glamorous superstars, and strung-out sufferers—ground zero of drag and performance art. Still, no personality was more vibrant and formidable than iO's mother's. Rhonna, a showgirl and young widow, was a mercurial, erratic Glamazon and iO's fiercest defender, her only authority in a world with few boundaries and even fewer indicators of normal life. At the center of Darling Days is the remarkable relationship between a fiery kid and her domineering Ma—a bond defined by freedom and control, excess and sacrifice; by heartbreaking deprivation, agonizing rupture, and, ultimately, forgiveness. Darling Days is also a provocative examination of culture and identity, and of the cour­age and resilience of a child listening closely to her deepest self. When a group of boys refuse to let six-year-old iO play ball, she instantly adopts a new persona, becoming a boy named Ricky—a choice her parents support and celebrate. It is the start of a profound exploration of gender and identity through the tenderest years, and the beginning of a life invented and reinvented at every step.


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Unfolding in animated, crystalline prose, an emotionally raw, devastatingly powerful memoir of one young woman's extraordinary coming of age—a tale of gender and identity, freedom and addiction, rebellion and survival in the 1980s and 1990s, when punk, poverty, heroin, and art collided in the urban bohemia of New York's Lower East Side. Born into the beautiful bedlam of dow Unfolding in animated, crystalline prose, an emotionally raw, devastatingly powerful memoir of one young woman's extraordinary coming of age—a tale of gender and identity, freedom and addiction, rebellion and survival in the 1980s and 1990s, when punk, poverty, heroin, and art collided in the urban bohemia of New York's Lower East Side. Born into the beautiful bedlam of downtown New York in the eighties, iO Tillett Wright came of age at the intersection of punk, poverty, heroin, and art. This was a world of self-invented characters, glamorous superstars, and strung-out sufferers—ground zero of drag and performance art. Still, no personality was more vibrant and formidable than iO's mother's. Rhonna, a showgirl and young widow, was a mercurial, erratic Glamazon and iO's fiercest defender, her only authority in a world with few boundaries and even fewer indicators of normal life. At the center of Darling Days is the remarkable relationship between a fiery kid and her domineering Ma—a bond defined by freedom and control, excess and sacrifice; by heartbreaking deprivation, agonizing rupture, and, ultimately, forgiveness. Darling Days is also a provocative examination of culture and identity, and of the cour­age and resilience of a child listening closely to her deepest self. When a group of boys refuse to let six-year-old iO play ball, she instantly adopts a new persona, becoming a boy named Ricky—a choice her parents support and celebrate. It is the start of a profound exploration of gender and identity through the tenderest years, and the beginning of a life invented and reinvented at every step.

30 review for Darling Days: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Candace

    I read this book in 2.5 days. Just could not stop. I’m finding it hard to know how to talk about it. I’d admired iO since seeing his What’s Underneath contribution and learning about the Self Evident Truths project, seeing snippets of a seemingly extraordinary life and past, growing up with extraordinary parents in extraordinary places but not knowing how a childhood like that would actually work. And now reading the story, or at least glimpses, it kind of wallops you. I wanted a time machine to I read this book in 2.5 days. Just could not stop. I’m finding it hard to know how to talk about it. I’d admired iO since seeing his What’s Underneath contribution and learning about the Self Evident Truths project, seeing snippets of a seemingly extraordinary life and past, growing up with extraordinary parents in extraordinary places but not knowing how a childhood like that would actually work. And now reading the story, or at least glimpses, it kind of wallops you. I wanted a time machine to go back and give this kid a hug, make dinner, new sneakers, whatever. But how to talk about it. It’s easy (and gross) to romanticise someone’s struggle and draw vague inspiration from what someone else had to endure. I don’t want to do that. And the book isn’t really about “the struggle”. It’s more: “you just don’t know”. You see the standoffish kid giving you a side glance, you have no idea. You see the woman with busted dance shoes, a plastic bag purse, nerves of steel, it’s a glimpse of someone you can’t possibly know, your judgements are incorrect. Everyone’s story (yours included) is deeper and more important than maybe we feel we can address sometimes, but the best starting point is just being open, listening, respecting what someone tells you as their experience. Lives are not “good” or “bad”, nor are people. We’re all too full for that. It’s about meeting people where they’re at, sending out love but taking no shit. It’s about believing your kid when they tell you who they are. And way too much more than that as well, but I’m going to leave it at this for now. Thanks to iO for sharing his story with us. Brave move and one that offers support to so many others.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    Gritty, visceral, and not for the faint of heart is this book. iO is born to a mother who is beautiful, artistic, colorful, a drug addict, an alcoholic, verbally abusive and mentally ill. They live in a hovel on the lower east side of Manhattan. iO has no care, no routine, no food, no bed, and no idea how to live. The writing is clever and riveting. She narrates her life from around the age of five up until 25 and the dialogue matures as she does in the story. Once iO is old enough to realize ho Gritty, visceral, and not for the faint of heart is this book. iO is born to a mother who is beautiful, artistic, colorful, a drug addict, an alcoholic, verbally abusive and mentally ill. They live in a hovel on the lower east side of Manhattan. iO has no care, no routine, no food, no bed, and no idea how to live. The writing is clever and riveting. She narrates her life from around the age of five up until 25 and the dialogue matures as she does in the story. Once iO is old enough to realize how bad she has it she tells people and is eventually taken from her mother. This does not mean however, that her new life is easy, ordered, or healthy. Her maternal abuse was bone chilling but her love for her mother is still deep. Read the book if you want to know what becomes of her.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Julianna

    Having seen iO featured on an episode of What's Underneath, I was struck by his candor and couldn’t wait to dive into the memoir. I wasn’t disappointed as his on-screen voice translates to the page in a beautifully unfiltered way. Darling Days catapults from what I initially envied as a scrappy Bohemian city upbringing in the Lower East Side, into a childhood fraught with neglect, the pressure of gender binaries and the tumultuous world of drugs. His harrowing yet passionate relationship with hi Having seen iO featured on an episode of What's Underneath, I was struck by his candor and couldn’t wait to dive into the memoir. I wasn’t disappointed as his on-screen voice translates to the page in a beautifully unfiltered way. Darling Days catapults from what I initially envied as a scrappy Bohemian city upbringing in the Lower East Side, into a childhood fraught with neglect, the pressure of gender binaries and the tumultuous world of drugs. His harrowing yet passionate relationship with his mother is the toughest love he has ever known and the gripping anecdotal backbone. I wanted to hug this book for pushing away notions of a homogenized existence and encouraging acceptance by familiarity. To avoid boxes, it's the next great everyone book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Allan

    Given the often harrowing neglect documented in this memoir, it's maybe wrong to say that I enjoyed the book, but I certainly appreciated it as much as any of the titles that I've read this year. Wright, born and raised in the Lower East Side of the 1980s / 90s, had an unconventional upbringing to say the least, primarily thanks to the erratic ideas and behaviour of her mother, to whom she writes a personal letter of love at the start of the book. From as early as she remembers, she feels most co Given the often harrowing neglect documented in this memoir, it's maybe wrong to say that I enjoyed the book, but I certainly appreciated it as much as any of the titles that I've read this year. Wright, born and raised in the Lower East Side of the 1980s / 90s, had an unconventional upbringing to say the least, primarily thanks to the erratic ideas and behaviour of her mother, to whom she writes a personal letter of love at the start of the book. From as early as she remembers, she feels most comfortable living as a boy, which she does without fuss from her family, or from most of her peers, certainly until her teenage years, before returning to identifying as female as she enters high school. This gender fluidity is, however, almost an incidental theme in the book - having never really been an issue for Wright, it's always there, but never really a problem. The problem is, unfortunately, all too frequently, her dancer mother, whose ideas of parenting, while often well intentioned, are way off the mark - and that's before her behaviour becomes even more unpredictable thanks to her abuse of prescription drugs. I should elaborate that this isn't one of those memoirs from the genre that often appears on supermarket shelves, where writers understandably find that sharing their harrowing childhood tales is almost therapeutic. Wright is a genuinely bright, likeable, though flawed person who gets on with things without fuss, and has family and friends who care for her in different ways throughout her life, which stretches from NYC to Europe and England and back in the period covered in the memoir. Her anecdotes of family turmoil, as well as happy times and life milestones are genuinely engaging, and I found myself looking forward to finding out more as I made my way through the book. While I hadn't known anything about Wright before starting the book, I have been directed to a few of her projects by GR friends, and will definitely look out for her work, as well as any more writing by her, in future. I'm fond of a memoir, and this is one of the best I've read in a long time.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Marlowe

    This book fucked me up!!! The style of writing was really nice I feel like it was written exactly how people just talk. I love books where the main character is queer but that isn’t the central point of the story. Which since it’s a memoir it makes sense bc really people don’t actually define themselves by one thing. But still it’s cool to read about. A lot of their feelings about gender and sexuality are like mine which is very validating. Overall there are a lot of intense feelings to relate a This book fucked me up!!! The style of writing was really nice I feel like it was written exactly how people just talk. I love books where the main character is queer but that isn’t the central point of the story. Which since it’s a memoir it makes sense bc really people don’t actually define themselves by one thing. But still it’s cool to read about. A lot of their feelings about gender and sexuality are like mine which is very validating. Overall there are a lot of intense feelings to relate and not relate to and a very interesting life to read about here.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Julia Alberino

    This book exceeded my expectations. I received it free in exchange for writing a review on another site. Full disclosure: I lived in the East Village/Alphabet City, then the West Village, then back to the East Village in the years that iO is writing about, so I recognize the settings and, if not the specific characters, the types of people with whom she and her mother interacted in many of the vignettes that form so many of the chapters. If they weren’t all exactly “Darling Days,” those times in This book exceeded my expectations. I received it free in exchange for writing a review on another site. Full disclosure: I lived in the East Village/Alphabet City, then the West Village, then back to the East Village in the years that iO is writing about, so I recognize the settings and, if not the specific characters, the types of people with whom she and her mother interacted in many of the vignettes that form so many of the chapters. If they weren’t all exactly “Darling Days,” those times in the 1990s were so much more experientially interesting than what goes on in the sterile, gentrified atmosphere that pervades so much of the East Village today. The book made me nostalgic and regretful at the same time, reminding me once again that New York has become safer yet somehow less livable in the 21st Century. The author calls us back to those edgier times, and gives us an enjoyable read while doing so. She explores (but not pedantically) such themes as gender fluidity and parent-daughter relationships. She does bring things up to 2008 by book’s end, but I admit to having enjoyed the chapters dealing with the earlier period much more. That the author has been able to achieve what she has despite her rocky start in life and years of addictions and dysfunction in her home life is a tribute to her resilience. Some chapters are hard to read (from an emotional, not a writing perspective, as the writing is always clear and concise). I believe the book will appeal to many different types and generations of readers.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Shalyn

    Quite possibly one of the most visceral, evocative and compelling books I have ever 'read'. At points I was laughing, at others I cried. It left me feeling a keen sense of belonging, of parallels, and that perhaps my own history is not just normal, but beautiful. To hear another person grapple with the things that make them unique, different, beautifully human, the things that broke them, healed them, and made them who they are, made me feel like my journey in self-discovery, in coming out, was Quite possibly one of the most visceral, evocative and compelling books I have ever 'read'. At points I was laughing, at others I cried. It left me feeling a keen sense of belonging, of parallels, and that perhaps my own history is not just normal, but beautiful. To hear another person grapple with the things that make them unique, different, beautifully human, the things that broke them, healed them, and made them who they are, made me feel like my journey in self-discovery, in coming out, was absolutely ok. iO is so unapologetic in delivering his truth, and I am grateful for that. This book is a gift. This is the first time I have listened to a book, rather than read it, and having the author read his own story to you is like talking to someone all night until the sun comes up.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    This memoir was an addictive read for me. Written so candidly, I couldn't help but admire iO's openness surrounding such a tumultuous and explosive childhood. I will certainly not forget this book! This memoir was an addictive read for me. Written so candidly, I couldn't help but admire iO's openness surrounding such a tumultuous and explosive childhood. I will certainly not forget this book!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sheri Howard

    iO Tillet Wright’s story is fascinating and I really enjoyed his writing and his narration—very skilled at both! Definitely a good listen. iO is also a talented photographer—love, love, LOVE his Self Evident Truths project! Brilliant! And don’t miss his “Fifty Shades of Gay” TED Talk: "…familiarity really is the gateway drug to empathy." Yep! iO Tillet Wright’s story is fascinating and I really enjoyed his writing and his narration—very skilled at both! Definitely a good listen. iO is also a talented photographer—love, love, LOVE his Self Evident Truths project! Brilliant! And don’t miss his “Fifty Shades of Gay” TED Talk: "…familiarity really is the gateway drug to empathy." Yep!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Eleanor

    The book-comparison game is a dangerous one, but it is one that people who sell and promote books have to play on a regular basis. Sometimes this results in weird and vaguely desperate combinations (hands up if you’ve ever seen a book whose jacket says something like “for fans of Stephen King and Sex and the City” and wondered what the hell kind of target demographic that is); sometimes it results in regrettable over-selling (see my review of Diary of an Oxygen Thief, which wasn’t well served by The book-comparison game is a dangerous one, but it is one that people who sell and promote books have to play on a regular basis. Sometimes this results in weird and vaguely desperate combinations (hands up if you’ve ever seen a book whose jacket says something like “for fans of Stephen King and Sex and the City” and wondered what the hell kind of target demographic that is); sometimes it results in regrettable over-selling (see my review of Diary of an Oxygen Thief, which wasn’t well served by being compared to The Catcher in the Rye). Sometimes—just sometimes—it’s spot on. And so it is with Darling Days, a memoir by iO Tillett Wright (yes, iO, spelled like that) that comes garlanded with comparisons to Patti Smith’s Just Kids and Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle. Incredibly, almost improbably, the comparisons are apt. It’s a great book. Read the rest of the review here: https://ellethinks.wordpress.com/2016...

  11. 4 out of 5

    Straw

    When you use a transphobic slur that trans women of color have repeatedly asked for a moratorium on, I just can't. When Bourdain, who also threw that word about in at least one of his books, is on your back cover recommending you - double down. When I read about your art and your travels to university all I can think is do better. When you use a transphobic slur that trans women of color have repeatedly asked for a moratorium on, I just can't. When Bourdain, who also threw that word about in at least one of his books, is on your back cover recommending you - double down. When I read about your art and your travels to university all I can think is do better.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Charly

    One of the best memoirs I have ever read!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Annamaria

    The memoir is fantastic! Io’s life is fascinating and tragic at times. I really was mesmerized by this story. I listened to the audiobook, which is narrated by the author and I highly recommend it. Io’s voices and accents are incredible. It really makes the story come to life.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Pam

    i was so confused for a minute or two bc i knew i hadn't marked this book as finished but i think my stupid kindle did it automatically when i finished the book, stupid kindle anyways i loved this so much, i don't know why i waited two years to read it bc i knew i would love it, maybe that's why i waited, i now have a bit of a book hangover, i just miss iO and nyc and i'm not ready to go into another world, i just wanted to keep following his life and catch up to where he is today living in the d i was so confused for a minute or two bc i knew i hadn't marked this book as finished but i think my stupid kindle did it automatically when i finished the book, stupid kindle anyways i loved this so much, i don't know why i waited two years to read it bc i knew i would love it, maybe that's why i waited, i now have a bit of a book hangover, i just miss iO and nyc and i'm not ready to go into another world, i just wanted to keep following his life and catch up to where he is today living in the desert, sober, and he seems so happy now, i just love him! this is another book (like the glass castle) that makes me think about parenting and how to be a good parent, i mean basic life necessities where often not met bc of his parent's illnesses but they were always so loving and supportive and ensured that he had a rich and varied and loving childhood, he was able to pursue his interests and inclinations freely and you can see from the man he is today how important that is to creating a beautiful, fulfilled, intelligent adult

  15. 5 out of 5

    Tina Hayes-siltzer

    I found this memoir so rich and engrossing that it was difficult to put down. It is one of my all time favorite memoirs. I laughed out loud, found myself having to re-read portions that were simply unbelievable and so beautifully rendered, and I cried at times. Profoundly devastating and raw yet written with love and concern for the people who influenced him, including the street people, tenant neighbors, school bullies and counselors. It detailed day to day life growing up in the grittiest part I found this memoir so rich and engrossing that it was difficult to put down. It is one of my all time favorite memoirs. I laughed out loud, found myself having to re-read portions that were simply unbelievable and so beautifully rendered, and I cried at times. Profoundly devastating and raw yet written with love and concern for the people who influenced him, including the street people, tenant neighbors, school bullies and counselors. It detailed day to day life growing up in the grittiest part NYC, the Bowery, of the seventies and eighties, a child barely surviving, literally not knowing where or when his next meal would come from. iO Tillett's memoir with photos is riveting, I couldn't put it down. I plan to listen to it on Audible, the author narrates and he has a brilliant voice. I listened to his podcast The Ballad of Billy Balls which was also highly personal, it features his mother's story and voice. I highly recommend the actual book, the book photos are absolutely essential. And read it before listening to the podcast, that way you get a sense of every one in that tale. This is a true work of art and it is his love letter to his 'ma'.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sian Lile-Pastore

    Really like iO and really appreciate him sharing his story of a chaotic bohemian childhood. Really interesting stuff around how they identify and coming out as queer and loved hearing about his family and friends. The writing for me was good but didn't lift this memoir to something more than an interesting story, but also very easy to read and engaging and accessible. Was a bit confused when iO's dad said that he couldn't afford to keep iO living with him and then sent him off to a really fancy Really like iO and really appreciate him sharing his story of a chaotic bohemian childhood. Really interesting stuff around how they identify and coming out as queer and loved hearing about his family and friends. The writing for me was good but didn't lift this memoir to something more than an interesting story, but also very easy to read and engaging and accessible. Was a bit confused when iO's dad said that he couldn't afford to keep iO living with him and then sent him off to a really fancy boarding school in England. Trigger warnings for mental illness, neglect, drug abuse and a transphobic slur used early on in the book

  17. 4 out of 5

    Beril

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Beautiful, raw and unfiltered. Thoroughly enjoyable, a breathtaking journey into moments from childhood adolescence and early adulthood in New York. I had some paradigm-shifting perspectives as I read iO’s commentary on the undeniably difficult and viscerally painful moments in his life, especially around the subject of his relationship with his parents and heartbreak. iO has a natural gift in telling his life, with a tone merging the objectivity of a stranger, and the depth of a poet. This book Beautiful, raw and unfiltered. Thoroughly enjoyable, a breathtaking journey into moments from childhood adolescence and early adulthood in New York. I had some paradigm-shifting perspectives as I read iO’s commentary on the undeniably difficult and viscerally painful moments in his life, especially around the subject of his relationship with his parents and heartbreak. iO has a natural gift in telling his life, with a tone merging the objectivity of a stranger, and the depth of a poet. This book is full of life and beauty and hardship.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Julie ~ thecaffeinatedreader

    I always find it difficult to rate an autobiography for it feels like passing judgement on someone else's life. What I can say about this book though is that I devoured it. Tillett Wrights descriptions are vivid and blunt (sometimes even a bit too unsparing) and I couldn’t help but root for the author in quest for (gender) identity. It really is an astonishing and captivating portrayal of a gritty East Village childhood. I always find it difficult to rate an autobiography for it feels like passing judgement on someone else's life. What I can say about this book though is that I devoured it. Tillett Wrights descriptions are vivid and blunt (sometimes even a bit too unsparing) and I couldn’t help but root for the author in quest for (gender) identity. It really is an astonishing and captivating portrayal of a gritty East Village childhood.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Lillith F

    I simply did not want this book to end! I never usually go for biographical writing, but this is transcendent, it is rich storytelling at its finest. Getting the audiobook was also a worthy investment. Read by the author himself all the people in this book had such rich voices and characters, with accents and all; it just added another dimension of life for me.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lynsey Ladybird

    Absolutely stunning. A true literary masterpiece!! True, raw, dirty and hilarious. Her upbringing was a whirlwind and she is a strong, brave soul. How have I never heard of her before. I highly recommend the audiobook, read by IO. I was rooting for her/him every step of the way

  21. 5 out of 5

    Arrianne

    I loved every second of this book; iO TW has an astounding ability to write about the emotions of growing up with the added complications of a mother trapped in addiction, struggling with gender & sexuality. Just amazing. [CW gender dysphoria, child neglect, abusive relationships, addiction]

  22. 5 out of 5

    Bailey Allegro

    This was my favorite book I read in 2020 by far.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Vix Standen

    I’ve been enjoying iO’s podcast recently & thought it was high time I read his book. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the podcast, taking a deeper look at everything that made iO the formidable person he is today. It was a tough read at points, but very well executed & I really enjoyed it.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Katerina Skotalova

    Best written memoir I have read in a long time. Very raw, easy and difficult to read at the same time. Complicated childhood that iO describes with surprisingly clear head.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Chorney-Booth

    This was lovely.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Marilyn

    Io has a unique voice, and love just spills from every page. From this book you get such a glimpse into the resilience of children, and the their rich and complex internal lives. This book really moved me. It is full of fierce love and broken hearts.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kelsey H

    Beautifully written - about how you can make sense of the world when as a child everything around you is unstable.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Erin Tuzuner

    Engrossing, gritty excerpts of a life well and fully lived. iO's narrative is inhabited by the grey and vibrant cities they roamed as the decay refused to solidify. Engrossing, gritty excerpts of a life well and fully lived. iO's narrative is inhabited by the grey and vibrant cities they roamed as the decay refused to solidify.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    Powerful memoir.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    Beautiful, traumatic, nostalgic, enlightening, familiar, yet strikingly unique. If you are listening to the podcast The Ballad of Billy Balls, this fills in some of the gaps and complements it in a deeper way.

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