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Review: Josh Stallings' All the Wild Children

By Gabino Iglesias

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It's 2013. I'm on the bus, reading Josh Stallings' memoir, All the Wild Children. It's fun and sad in equal measure, wonderfully real and brutally honest, creative and unique. Stallings and his kin were not dealt an easy hand, but they stuck together, dealt with it, and survived. More than a memoir, this is a book about growing up, learning to hit back when life hurts you, and pushing as hard as you can to force circumstances to change. Despite being Stallings' story, All the Wild Children manages to make me remember things.

It's 1994. I'm 12 and in seventh grade. A guy they call Andres is having sip of water at the fountain. I jokingly ask if he's back in business. He got caught selling porno mags next to that same water fountain a few days before. Without answering, he walks over to a nearby trashcan and pulls out a bottle of Malta India, a ridiculously sweet malt beverage that's very popular in the Caribbean. Andres smashes the bottle's neck against the wooden barrel that houses the trashcan and has me pinned against a wall three seconds later. The malt's sweet smell creeps up my nose and I feel the broken glass against my neck. The guy, who has three years and about 80 pounds on me, is threatening to kill me. Do it, I tell him. If you don't, I'm going to break your face. He smiles and steps back. I pounce. Knuckles meet face twice before he's down. Then I pounce. Just like Stallings, I'm a raccoon who refuses to back down.

Great books make you feel, think, or remember. All the Wild Children does all of them. More than a memoir about crime, this is a memoir about how easy it is to commit crimes and how those actions shape us. However, calling it a noir memoir is not a misnomer. There are guns, fights, booze, and plenty of drugs, but they are only elements of a narrative in which decisions, consequences, love, struggles, and family are the most important things. Whether he's recounting the wild times lived when he and his siblings ran a club or remembering the feeling of being ready to call a man, Stallings writes about everything he went through without pulling back or embellishing the facts. At times he crosses out entire paragraphs because he realizes that's not how it happened or asks a sibling for confirmation, sometimes even going as far as including an email exchange as part of the text. The result is an candid, compelling memoir that deserves to be read.

Besides the themes mentioned above, Stallings brings to the table a writing style that makes this personal account read like fiction. For starters, the narrative constantly goes back and forth in time, obeying an thematic focus rather than a chronological one. Also, the mixture of straightforward prose with philosophical views on things like affection, fatherhood, responsibility, and politics turn All the Wild Things into a survival manual for those born and raised in the midst of chaos.

Raw, brutally honest, very entertaining, and wonderfully heartfelt, All the Wild Children is one of those autobiographies that achieves the rare feat of being unique and very personal while simultaneously packing plenty of universal feelings and situations. Stallings fought and survived, and he did so with a sense of humor and paying attention to the things that seemed to matter. For that, the chronicle of his life is rich and worthy of your time.