It struck me yesterday as I was posting about Jesmyn Ward's fantastic (and fantastically sad) memoir Men We Reaped: A Memoir, that it reminded me of several other books I've read. Librarians like the term "read-alikes" for books that they suggest which might be similar to other books you've read, but I confess I've never been that crazy about the term. Perhaps because I think it's sloppy terminology--I think book suggestions can also be made on the basis of similar or related subject matters (this is particularly important for nonfiction), and "read-alike" as a term doesn't always allow for that. But I digress. Following are some books you might want to consider in addition to or instead of Jesmyn Ward's memoir.
Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx, by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc.
It's probably time for me to re-read this one but I honestly don't know if I have the heart. No kidding. I read it more than ten years ago and I still remember it. LeBlanc spent ten years getting to know families in the Bronx, and doesn't hold back on any details of the many struggles in their lives, including poverty, crime, abuse, and teen pregnancy (to name just a few). But it was a really eye-opening read, and a stunning work of reportage (and a just plain massive amount of work on the author's part).
Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence, by Geoffrey Canada.
Canada's memoir of growing up having to "prove himself" using ever-escalating violence is a gut-wrenching read, but trust me, you need to read it.
Warriors Don't Cry: The Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock's Central High, by Melba Pattillo Beals.
Beals was one of the original "Little Rock Nine," and her firsthand account of the bullshit she and her eight classmates had to go through to attend school at Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas, is really sad. As if high school isn't tough enough, imagine having to walk there followed by crowds of people yelling threats at you while you do.
These books focus mostly on race; if I can think of more memoirs that address the family relationships aspect of Men We Reaped, I'll add them later.