The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Hadish.
Gallery books, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2017.
Memoir/autobiography, 276 pages.
The life of comedian Tiffany Hadish from foster care to Hollywood stardom.
Yet another Target pick. I’ve been finding some gems (and a few duds) randomly choosing books at Target that have POC on the cover. Before reading this book, I didn’t think Hadish was familiar to me, but then realized I’d seen her before. I’m not very informed on pop culture so the name wasn’t as recognizable to me as it might be for others.
Although the cover isn’t particularly fantasy-ish, the unicorn of the title interested me. Alas, it’s a comedian’s memoir, not a fantasy novel. But the last comedy memoir I read from Target was excellent, so I decided to give this one a try. This is the story of Hadish’s life from high school until her more recent Hollywood success.
The twelve chapters are topical, arranged in roughly chronological order. Some of her stories are laugh-out-loud funny, while others, particularly the chapter about her ex-husband, are much more serious. Hadish has been through a lot, and she’s open about her experiences both negative and positive.
Conversely, that means this book has a paragraph of trigger warnings: domestic abuse, depression, mental illness, physical disability, violence against children, molestation, attempted murder, physical altercations, swearing, drug use, drinking, STDs, slurs and insults, prostitution, homelessness, child abandonment, PTSD, death, foster care, choking, and probably others I’ve missed.
I’d recommend this to current and potential foster parents, as well as adoptive parents who are considering older child adoption or adoption from foster care. It’s crucial to listen to FFY as the internet calls them, or former foster youth, as well as the voices of adult adoptees.
Haddish was in foster care from the time she was 13 until she was 18 and kicked out of her grandmother’s house because the funding ended. She spent a year in more traditional foster situations (a group home and placements) before her grandmother was selected as a relative caregiver. But the problems in her family didn’t start at 13, and their repercussions in her life certainly didn’t end at 18.
The overall picture of her life is a valuable gift to anyone involved in the child welfare or related systems. In particular, the relationships she has with her family are fascinating and heart-breaking. Despite the evils her step-father did to the family, she turns to him during severe depression. While her biological father has abandoned her, the mere possibility of reconnecting with him drives major life decisions. Most poignant is the relationship with her mother, stunted and complicated by her mother’s head trauma and resulting mental illness.
After recounting numerous stories of physical, mental, and emotional abuse, Haddish writes in the final chapter:
“My goal is to get enough money to buy a duplex. I want to put her in one of the units and hire a full-time nurse to take care of her. Then, I want to get her on whatever medications they gave her when she was in Norwalk, so she can be my mama again.
Honestly, that’s all I really want from life.” page 258
Haddish’s remarkable devotion to her family is both heartbreaking and endearing. Readers can also trace the influence in her relationships with men, three of which are detailed here and others mentioned more briefly. She writes about how a childhood of domestic violence led her to a similar relationship with her ex-husband.
While on the whole I liked this book, there were also some serious flaws. Haddish uses fat-shaming language and slut-shames other women. One chapter is called “Roscoe the Handicapped Angel” and you can probably guess from the title that I found that chapter… difficult. On the one hand, Haddish talks frankly about sex with a disabled man and opens a conversation. On the other, she doesn’t seem to have the ability or willingness to scrutinize her own actions and see the problems in her reactions and choices. Yet because of these glaring problems, I’m inclined to believe Haddish is fully open and honest about other aspects of her life.
Normally I would not recommend a book with some of the issues that this one has. However, in this case other aspects of her experience (being a foster youth and living with a parent who has mental illness) lead me to still recommend it to some groups. In particular, I think anyone involved with the child welfare system should read this.
While the sex scenes, drug use, copious swearing, and other aspects cause me to suggest this only for adults, it could be quite useful and helpful to some teens, particularly those who may have had similar childhood experiences. Those who enjoy celebrity memoirs or fans of her acting and comedy might also be interested.