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Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite
Have you ever read a book blurb, decided you’d like to read that book, gotten into the first section and thought, “This is going to be good!’ Then you move on a bit, change your mind, nearly chuck the book, but then something makes you pick it up again? That’s what might happen for you with The Life of Mikey by Michael K. Willis. Whether you persist will depend on three things: how you like Willis’ style, his love of describing the geography of the Appalachians where he grew up, and whether you enjoy remembering the political, economic and social changes from the 50’s to the 70’s.
Michael K. Willis has a most engaging and endearing style. His memoir of physical abuse is lightened by humour and acceptance of that is just how it was back in those days. He was one of eight children born to a Baptist country pastor and his foul-mouthed wife, both of whom believed in whipping their kids, both physically and verbally, into goodness and godliness. It was a rough life for Michael and his siblings, but one he feels toughened him up to face the future in a world where social injustice and terrorism in all its forms is rampant. There was no love lost between the author and his parents, and yet, as he says in his epilogue, he recognizes after writing The Life of Mikey why they did what they did and acknowledges that all of us make mistakes, especially when raising children, thinking we are doing what is right when it isn’t.
What prevents The Life of Mikey from being a depressing read is Willis’ style: it’s lightly reflective, often humorous, and moves at a fast pace. The Willis family changed homes and locations many times during the author’s journey into adulthood. Willis provides quick looks at the beautiful landscapes and towns in which the family lived. He barrels through important political events like the assassinations of Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy and his brother, and all the turmoil surrounding the same. He reminds those of us who lived during those decades of the wonder we all felt at seeing our first televisions, or later, men landing on the moon. And all the while, he has us smiling in remembrance of our own childhood shenanigans and confusion about the adult world, not to mention the raised eyebrows at girls in mini-skirts!
The Life of Mikey is a trip down Memory Lane, but not just for Michael K. Willis. While the geography of his upbringing and the family may differ from our own, there is much here on a personal level with which readers will identify. And that will keep them reading and enjoying The Life of Mikey.