Review: Strong Inside (Young Readers Edition) by Andrew Maraniss – The Best Biography I Have Ever Read

Hi guys! In March, I met the wonderful Andrew Maraniss- a Nashville native (Nashville has such an AMAZING author community by the way)- and I had the opportunity to be able to interview him here and be able to review his newest book Strong Inside: Young Readers Edition. It is the Young Adult version of his New York Times bestselling book Strong Inside, which is a biography on the great Perry Wallace. Now let’s get onto the review!


About the BookStrong Inside

The inspirational true story of the first African American to play college basketball in the deeply segregated Southeastern Conference–a powerful moment in Black history.

Perry Wallace was born at an historic crossroads in U.S. history. He entered kindergarten the year that the Brown v. Board of Education decision led to integrated schools, allowing blacks and whites to learn side by side. A week after Martin Luther King Jr.’s -I Have a Dream- speech, Wallace enrolled in high school and his sensational jumping, dunking, and rebounding abilities quickly earned him the attention of college basketball recruiters from top schools across the nation. In his senior year his Pearl High School basketball team won Tennessee’s first racially-integrated state tournament.
The world seemed to be opening up at just the right time, and when Vanderbilt University recruited Wallace to play basketball, he courageously accepted the assignment to desegregate the Southeastern Conference. The hateful experiences he would endure on campus and in the hostile gymnasiums of the Deep South turned out to be the stuff of nightmares. Yet Wallace persisted, endured, and met this unthinkable challenge head on. This insightful biography digs deep beneath the surface to reveal a complicated, profound, and inspiring story of an athlete turned civil rights trailblazer.


A 5 Star

Disclaimer: I received a free signed physical copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This will not affect my review in anyway. All thoughts are mine and mine alone, and they are my honest thoughts.

Overall Thoughts: My whole review can be summarized in this one sentence: Strong Inside is by far the best biography I have ever read. At the beginning of 2016, I was in a what I call a “memoir fad” when all I read were memoirs and nonfiction… thankfully it lasted for only two months. Yes, I found Martin Short’s, Tina Fey’s, and Amy Poehler’s memoirs hilariously funny (redundant, I know!) but Strong Inside tops them. I’m being serious. This book was so amazing that I’ve page flagged like 15-20 different quotes and excerpts. I mean, I devoured this book. I read half of it in a day (I know it’s for younger readers but still…) and finished it in three days!

The Life of Perry Wallace: Perry Wallace isn’t a big household name, but after reading his story, he’s like a celebrity to me. His story is very interesting and heart-wrenching. As a Tennessean, a Southerner, and an Asian in the 21st century, it’s hard to imagine what is was like living in the South in the mid-1900s. To see all this hatred and racism that happened to Wallace whenever he visited places in Mississippi, Alabama, or even in his hometown Nashville definitely makes you stop and think. I’m so surprised events like the Fisk University riots occurred in my state’s capital. It’s shocking! Wallace is also super relatable, yet his life is very interesting. No wonder why the adult version of Strong Inside is one of the required reading for all freshmen at Vanderbilt University! It definitely will change your viewpoint on the world and how racism exists in so many ways, whether it is violent or more subtle. Knowing what people like Perry Wallace had to go through definitely inspires me to treat everyone more equally.

Prose: Maraniss definitely transported me from a bus, library, and bed into Perry Wallace’s life. I mean, it’s like I could hear the taunts and racial slurs or see the games that Wallace played in. I could feel his struggles so much, and I wanted to reach out to him. It’s so haunting and chilling how Maraniss portrayed Perry Wallace’s struggles to be a pioneer in SEC sports. This is definitely a book that will last with you for a while. The author definitely sucked me into the book that I couldn’t stop! There were times I was debating on reading this book or finishing a 20-slide power on copyright. Of course I did my powerpoint, but it was hard to resist that temptation. I kept on saying “Just a one chapter or five minute break” a lot.

Just Perfect! and Concluding Thoughts: I have nothing against this book. And I mean nothing. This book is one of the best books I have read this year, no doubt. I’m not the biggest nonfiction fan, but this certainly has defied that. I would give this to younger readers if I had the opportunity to get a crate because it’s something I believe should be read everywhere. Teachers, go get this book for your classroom! You will not be disappointed. You don’t have to be a sports fan to enjoy Perry Wallace’s conquest for “equalizing” and integrating the college sports industry. Reading Strong Inside will change your perception about the world and the racism that is unfolding everywhere, and it will inspire you to never give up in the face of oppression.

One of My Favorite Quotes: “I’ve got to adapt and look at things not as pressures but as challenges. Life has been a series of challenges for me. I’ve just tried to meet them as they come along. If I come through now, I’ll be a better man for it. It’s a hit or miss thing. Either I’ll make it or I won’t.” – Perry Wallace


About the AuthorAndrew Maraniss 1

Strong Inside is the first book by Andrew Maraniss. A partner at McNeely Pigott & Fox Public Relations in Nashville, Andrew studied history at Vanderbilt University as a recipient of the Fred Russell – Grantland Rice sportswriting scholarship, graduating in 1992. He then worked for five years in Vanderbilt’s athletic department as the associate director of media relations, dealing primarily with the men’s basketball team. In 1998, he served as the media relations manager for the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays during the team’s inaugural season, and then returned to Nashville to join MP&F. Andrew was born in Madison, Wis., grew up in Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas, and now lives in Brentwood, Tenn., with his wife, Alison, and their two young children. Follow him on Twitter @trublu24. 


Hope you enjoyed this review! Look out for upcoming reviews on Emerge by Tobie Easton, Embers in the Sea by Jennifer M. Eaton, Configured by Jenetta Penner, and many more. Plus, we’re going to interview some great authors soon and you don’t want to miss them!

Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Advertisements

Exclusive Interview with Andrew Maraniss!

Hi guys! Welcome to today’s special Friday interview! A few weeks ago, I went to the SE-YA Book Festival in Murfreesboro, TN, and I met some of the nicest and best authors there. I am so glad I have the chance to interview one of them today, and he is also a local author! Yay for TN authors! Andrew Maraniss is the author of Strong Inside, a biography about Perry Wallace which is in both the regular edition and the Young Readers’ Edition, which just came out this year. Go check them out!

Andrew Maraniss

1.     What is your book STRONG INSIDE about?Strong Inside

The easiest, shortest description is to say that it’s a biography of Perry Wallace, the first African American basketball player in the Southeastern Conference. But the book is about a lot more than just basketball. It’s about the civil rights movement, what it takes to be a pioneer, how a university struggled to become a more diverse and welcoming place, and how a teenager overcame tremendous obstacles to live a happy, successful life.

2.     Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?

 I enjoy everything about writing – including the parts that aren’t actually writing! For my book, I spent four years doing research and interviews before I wrote the first word. I love digging through old newspaper articles and archives looking for little nuggets of information that add rich detail to the story. I have loved writing ever since I was a kid. I would create my own sports magazines when I was in middle school.

3.     Who are your favorite authors, and which ones have had an impact on you? Who has affected your writing style the most?

My father has been a journalist my whole life, and he has been writing books ever since the time I was in college, so he has had the biggest impact on me as a writer by far. He was writing for a great newspaper, The Washington Post, when I was growing up, so I had the good fortune of reading very good journalism since the time I was five years old. I enjoy narrative non-fiction the most, so authors such as Erik Larson, John Feinstein, Bob Woodward, David Halberstam, Bill Bryson, and James Swanson are my favorites. I really enjoy reading a book where I feel like I am existing right beside the characters; I’ve been placed directly in their world.

4.     What are your favorite genres to read and write? What are your favorite books?

My favorite genre to read and write is narrative non-fiction. Some of my favorite books are Son of the Morning Star, Devil in the White City, The Breaks of the Game, The Perfect Storm, and Manhunt. As far as my dad’s books go, I have loved all of them, but I will mention When Pride Still Mattered (a biography of Vince Lombardi), They Marched Into Sunlight (about Vietnam), and Rome 1960 (about the Summer Olympics). I don’t reach much fiction but I really enjoyed Stephen King’s time-travel book, 11/22/63.

5.     What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?

Writing has become my full-time job. I wrote STRONG INSIDE as a side-project outside of my ‘real’ job at a public relations firm in Nashville. But now I am working on books or writing freelance articles for magazines and websites for a living. Also, because Vanderbilt University has selected the ‘adult’ version of STRONG INSIDE as the common read for their first-year students each of the last two years, I have worked on special projects for the university related to the book.

1974409_10153111065632743_6718783467156551887_o6.     How much research did you have to put into STRONG INSIDE? Have you ever had the chance to meet Perry Wallace?

I spent four years on the research for STRONG INSIDE. That included interviewing around 100 people and visiting numerous libraries and archives. I loved the research part! I interviewed Perry Wallace in person dozens of times, and also talked to him on the phone or emailed him questions. The first time I ever interviewed him was actually many, many years before I started writing the book. I actually wrote a paper about him for a history class when I was a sophomore at Vanderbilt in 1989. I didn’t start writing the book until 2006.

7.     What about Perry Wallace’s life speaks to you the most? Why did you choose him as the subject of your books?

I think Perry Wallace is the smartest, most interesting person I’ve ever come across, and his story of overcoming racism is extremely relevant today. I admire his courage tremendously. As I mentioned, his story is about a lot more than just basketball. It’s about concepts such as courage, love, hate, honesty, patience, isolation and loneliness, perseverance, reconciliation – things anyone can relate to.

8.     Why did you decide to write a Young Readers Edition along with the regular biography? What are some of their differences?

It wasn’t my idea initially to create the Young Readers version of STRONG INSIDE. I was encouraged to do it by two wonderful women – Ann Neely, who is a professor at Vanderbilt, and Ruta Sepetys, an amazing author who lives in Nashville. With their help and encouragement, I was able to present my book to Philomel (a young readers imprint at Penguin), and they really liked Perry’s story. The main difference is the length of the book. The Young Readers version is about one-fourth the length of the original, so it’s a much quicker read. I enjoyed working with the editors at Philomel to shorten the story, while also keeping the main storyline intact. This version of the book gets right to the heart of the action a lot quicker than the original, which builds up to the tension more slowly.

9.     If you could play any sport for any college or professional team, who would you choose and why? Do you play any sports as a hobby?

I grew up playing baseball, and my favorite team is the Milwaukee Brewers. So, if I could play for any team, I’d be a pitcher for the Brewers!

10. You graduated from Vanderbilt University and later worked there! Go Commodores! What are some of your favorite things or experiences from Vandy?

I was fortunate to earn a full-tuition sportswriting scholarship to Vanderbilt, which completely changed and shaped the direction of my life from that point forward. I lived in Austin, Texas in high school and had never really heard of Vanderbilt. There’s no way I would have gone to college there or moved to Nashville if not for the scholarship. My favorite building on earth is Memorial Gym, where the Commodores play basketball. It’s the same place Perry Wallace played. My wife and I got engaged the same day we saw Vanderbilt beat the No. 1 ranked team in the country there, and we also had our rehearsal dinner the night before our wedding at Memorial Gym!

11. As a biographer, what were some challenges you faced when you wrote both editions of STRONG INSIDE?Andrew Maraniss 1

I wanted my book to be taken seriously by sports fans, historians, civil rights experts, and book reviewers, but also be an entertaining read that anyone would enjoy, whether they are big sports fans or students or history buffs. So it was a challenge to balance all of that. It was also a challenge just sticking with a project for so long: eight years to create the original version, and then almost another year creating the young readers version.

12. How do you want your books to impact or change your readers? What message do you want both your younger and older audiences to get?

The biggest thing is probably empathy. I want people to put themselves in Perry Wallace’s shoes and experience what it was like to be a young, African American man encountering tremendous hatred and hostility just because of the color of his skin. He was the valedictorian of his high school. He practiced his trumpet four hours a day. He taught Sunday School. He never got in trouble. He spoke numerous foreign languages. He was a great athlete. He was kind to his sisters and parents. And yet when Vanderbilt announced they were recruiting him, people sent death threats to his home, said they would never go to another Vanderbilt game again, and harassed him on the basketball court. Every time he stepped out on the court, he was concerned he might get shot and killed. On campus, he felt very lonely and isolated. I want people to experience that, and see how wrong racism is. For those who have experienced racism themselves and had experiences similar to what Perry endured, I hope they will take some inspiration from his life, and how he overcame these challenges.

13. Have you ever had writer’s block, and if so, how do you get out of it?

My dad gave me great advice. He said he stops writing for the day already knowing what the next sentence or next paragraph will say, rather than stopping when he’s stumped. That way, the next time he gets started, he already knows what he’s going to say next. It helps keep momentum going and avoid writer’s block.

14. I am so glad I got to see you at the Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival in Murfreesboro, TN! It’s great meeting a local author! How did you like being an author there? Did you enjoy it? I know I did!

17212020_10155128500247743_5534080503796664787_oI loved the opportunity to participate in the SE-YA festival. I have spoken at numerous book festivals with adult version of my book, but this was the first time I had a chance to speak at a festival for students. It was awesome! I love meeting and speaking with young people. There is nothing better than seeing kids excited about reading and writing. I also really enjoyed the opportunity to hang out with so many amazing authors. I have found the young adult book world to be a really friendly scene full of helpful, kind, supportive people.

15. Have you written any other works? What are your current plans with your writing career?

STRONG INSIDE was my first book, but I hope to write many, many more. And I will continue to write for ESPN’s The Undefeated website. Here’s a link to the stories I have written for them so far.

16. Do you have any tips to any aspiring authors or writers?

Keep reading and writing! My parents told me whenever I was bored, read a book. And when you’re writing, don’t forget to spend time editing. Eliminate unnecessary words and clichés. Show rather than tell.

Thank you so much, Andrew, for coming onto our blog! It was fun writing your questions and reading your answers!

If you want to check out Andrew’s social media accounts, contact him, or buy his books, click the links below!

Website  |  Twitter  |  Facebook  |  Goodreads  |  YouTube  |  Bumpers

Strong Inside (Regular Edition)

Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Parnassus Books

Strong Inside Young Readers’ Edition

Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Parnassus Books

Thanks so much for reading this interview! Have a great weekend!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester