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 Book
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.
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 Author
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!