My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Interspersed with Guvna B's own lyrics as well as his Instagram posts (unfortunately only the captions made it into the digital ARC; I assume the pictures made it into print?), reading Unspoken: Toxic Masculinity and How I Faced the Man Within the Man felt like sitting in Isaac's (Guvna B's real name) living room, listening to him ramble on about life, grief, faith, and therapy.
It may seem a little weird that I picked this up for review (thanks Netgalley!) since I am not black, British, or male. I don't even listen to his songs; I find rap music a little weird. But the church I attended in Uxbridge had invited him to one of their youth events in 2019 (which is how I remembered the name), so I was a little curious.
The super-long title makes it sound like it's going to be this thesis, but the book reads more like a memoir, with Isaac dropping all pretensions, even his stage name. It centres around his upbringing on a council estate in East London and his grief at the loss of his father and two close friends in the span of two years. It's also mixed up with race relations in the UK, clashes of cultural and familial expectations, and the burden of fame, to some extent. Yet it's conversational and extremely relatable, like an elder brother sharing a personal story.
Some quotes I found super relatable even as someone who's not anywhere near the book's target market:
[For the Asians (lol)]
I was comprised neither of flesh nor blood but of parental aspiration...
[For the artists]
I now know that what was happening was that I was trying so hard to put out what I thought people wanted to hear, without ever stopping to ask myself what I wanted to say, what was in my heart...
I started comparing myself to other people, which made me feel even worse.
Advice to anyone reading this: Never compare.
[For grieving Christians]
'Within modern Christianity,' [Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury] said, 'we are really bad at lament and protest; really bad at saying, this is terrible, this is wrong, this is awful; and we're really bad at saying, "God I am really mad about this. I am so angry about this. God, I think you've let me down".'
What the psalm teaches us is that it is okay to rage against God, even though it does not come easily to us. It is better to rage against him than to shut him out completely.
In showing our true selves to God, he can reveal his true self to us. That is why lamenting and protesting in times of deep pain is as important as praising and celebrating in times of happiness. Learning to lament and protest is a journey towards better understanding God's love.
To be honest, while the storytelling prose is what makes the book, there were times when it felt like the author rambled on too far and then came back again with an, "oh yes, this was where I was going with this story". At the end of it all, he ties all the stories and the almost-devastation that came from those tragic events back to his own response, which was:
This ingrained sense of masculinity led me to believe that the only emotion permissible for me to reveal was rage. I could be angry, upset, hurt, or sad and then punch something, because that is what men did. Bare my teeth. Tighten my fist. Either that or grin and bear it. Handle it. Withstand the pain.
Overall, Unspoken is lyrically written, honest and heartfelt.
Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from  via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
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I didn't know this song was by Guvna B!