Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Take This Man: A Memoir

Rate this book
From PEN/Hemingway award winner Brando Skyhorse comes this stunning, heartfelt memoir in the vein of The Glass Castle or The Tender Bar, the true story of a boy’s turbulent childhood growing up with five stepfathers and the mother who was determined to give her son everything but the truth.

When he was three years old, Brando Kelly Ulloa was abandoned by his Mexican father. His mother, Maria, dreaming of a more exciting life, saw no reason for her son to live his life as a Mexican just because he started out as one. The life of “Brando Skyhorse,” the American Indian son of an incarcerated political activist, was about to begin.

Through a series of letters to Paul Skyhorse Johnson, a stranger in prison for armed robbery, Maria reinvents herself and her young son as American Indians in the colorful Mexican-American neighborhood of Echo Park, California. There Brando and his mother live with his acerbic grandmother and a rotating cast of surrogate fathers. It will be over thirty years before Brando begins to untangle the truth of his own past, when a surprise discovery online leads him to his biological father at last.

From an acclaimed, prize-winning novelist celebrated for his “indelible storytelling” (O, The Oprah Magazine), this extraordinary literary memoir captures a son’s single-minded search for a father wherever he can find one, and is destined to become a classic.

272 pages, Hardcover

First published June 3, 2014

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Brando Skyhorse

8 books136 followers

Brando Skyhorse is the author of the memoir "Take This Man" to be published by Simon and Schuster on June 3rd, 2014.

Brando Skyhorse’s debut novel, The Madonnas of Echo Park, received the 2011 Pen/Hemingway Award and the Sue Kaufman Award for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The book was also a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick. He has been awarded fellowships at Ucross and Can Serrat, Spain. Skyhorse is a graduate of Stanford University and the MFA Writers’ Workshop program at UC Irvine. He is the 2014 Jenny McKean Moore Writer-In-Washington at George Washington University.

Find out more at brandoskyhorse.com

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
272 (22%)
4 stars
484 (39%)
3 stars
342 (27%)
2 stars
103 (8%)
1 star
22 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 187 reviews
122 reviews
April 27, 2014
Take This Man: A Memoir was a poignant read. This was my first introduction to the author Brando Skyhorse, and I am delighted that I had the opportunity to review his memoir by winning a copy of this book through Goodreads. Reading about Skyhorse's childhood was distressing at times. Skyhorse's mother Maria had men revolving in and out the door, was a phone sex operator, and lied to her son about his ethnicity throughout his childhoood. Sadly, even Brando Skyhorse's name is fictitious and evolved out of his mother's desire to recreate a different identity for her son than that of a boy who was abandoned by his Mexican father. Take This Man is a very addictive memoir that explores decades of Skyhorse's search for the truth, and search for his biological father. Also, I think this memoir is a testament to Skyhorse's resiliency, and his uncommon ability to overcome extreme childhood trauma. I was very impressed with this memoir, and I plan on reading his other book The Madonnas of Echo Park. This memoir as well as the author deserves many accolades not only for being an exceptional writer, but also for being an extraordinary survivor.
Profile Image for Aisling.
Author 3 books97 followers
April 22, 2014
My review must be qualified by my realization that I should no longer read memoirs. Fans of reality t.v. will love this book. For me it was an agonizing slog through someone's most painful and ugly memories...until the last 40 pages when the author reflects and then the book becomes truly great. There is writing there that I wanted to re-read and send to friends and say 'isn't that incredible writing/beautiful/true'. That kind of writing is rare. I will read everything I can by Skyhorse (as long as it is fiction from now on) and give these four stars because the end of this book was so strong.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,551 reviews2,535 followers
August 10, 2014
A Mexican-American novelist explores the sadness and humor of his dysfunctional childhood. “A chorus of six men calling me Son might sound ludicrous to you, but to me it’s the sound of survival.” Skyhorse grew up in Echo Park, Los Angeles in the 1970s. His Mexican mother, a compulsive liar, renamed him as a Native American and disowned his biological father, who left when Skyhorse was three. Over the years she introduced five ‘fathers’ and a plethora of boyfriends into her son’s life. It is no surprise that, in such an unsettled environment, the author “thought family members were like trading cards.”

You might think a story like this – of lies, drugs and alcohol, and child abuse – would be impossibly dark. However, the remarkable thing about Skyhorse’s memoir is his matter-of-fact, often humorous style. His childhood was full of undeniable pain, but his enthusiasm for storytelling got him through.

(Non-subscribers can read an excerpt of my full review at BookBrowse.)

Profile Image for reading is my hustle.
1,470 reviews284 followers
October 12, 2014
May the Great Spirit Guide You...

Is it wrong that on the nights that I am ruminating on the (many!) ways I have screwed up my kids that I think back to the many memoirs I have read and comfort myself with the knowledge that maybe my kids will be alright?

Case in point: Brando Skyhorse. His (Mexican) mom pretended they were Native American. His grandma pretended she was straight. He had, I think, FIVE stepfathers (who he hilariously cast as various Hollywood actors). This does not include all the men his mom dated and paraded into his life. Then, in case all that was not enough, his mom tries to put him up for adoption by placing an ad in a magazine. She ends up making better money as a phone sex operator.

And (of course) he ends up attending Stanford.
It saves lives.

Profile Image for Corina.
183 reviews4 followers
June 30, 2014
I don't give 5 star ratings often. I may come back and modify it but right now, minutes after finishing the book, I think it well deserves the 5 stars, and then some.

I wanted to not like this book because of the rough language and the sometimes farcical scenes but those moments were outweighed by the times I wanted to reach out and take that little boy in my arms and snatch him from the damage I knew was being done to him.

I'm glad I stuck with it. This memoir is one not to be missed. It is well written and just the right length. I don't think the Reader could take a lot more of Maria or June's abuse, even though each one has their own story that, looked at with distance from Brando's story, makes them very sympathetic in their own way.

See if you can read it through and not cry like a baby at the last sentence. I couldn't.

This one should not be missed.
Profile Image for Colleen Oakes.
Author 17 books1,367 followers
July 22, 2014
Take This Man, in the same vein as The Glass Castle - which is my favorite memoir - had that same violent and raw look at a dysfunctional family that both entertained and ripped at your own heart. Brando Skyhorse has quite the story, and like his mother, he is quite the storyteller. Ripped from father to father, none who could be bothered to stay with his psychopathic mother and his equally aggressive grandmother, women who circled men like emaciated tigers, Skyhorse longs for a father who will overcome his mother, their poverty and his own growing aggression towards the men who flit in and out of his train-wreck of a life. I read it in two days, and loved not only the story of his past, but his reflections on where his life will take him from here. It was a beautiful story of rising from the ashes where a father should have been.
Profile Image for Anita NotherBook.
202 reviews12 followers
June 14, 2014
This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. It features a young boy who is sort-of-kind-of named "Brando Skyhorse." His mother constantly lies to him about his real name as well as about his heritage and upbringing, so it's hard for Brando (or the reader) to know what is real and what is fabricated. He has no real sense of identity but only one that is constructed in his mother's "interesting" imagination.

In addition to having an emotionally unstable, pathologically lying, immature mother, Brando lives with a grandmother who alternatively protects him and throws him under the bus. One of the themes in this book (at least to this reader) is how a child loves his caregivers forever, despite the evils that they do to him. No parent is perfect but Brando's mother is imperfect to the point of being emotionally as well as physically abusive, and while I was frustrated at his constant love of and need for approval from her, I also "got" it in a way that I can't really articulate. I suppose a redeeming factor is that she was quite obviously mentally ill (or at least I "hope" that she was, or else her treatment of Brando would be inexplicable).

Brando doesn't know his real father growing up, and he has a revolving series of stepfathers. His mother tells him that each man, in turn, is his true father and she pressures him to forget about past fathers as new ones arrive. Some of the past stepfathers reappear at different points in his life, however, just to give him enough hope that he will finally have a permanent "father," and then to dash that hope to pieces by disappearing yet again. He finally, as an adult (which is revealed in the prologue so is not a spoiler) makes contact with his real father but in this reader's humble opinion, that father isn't too much better than most of the stepfathers that come in and out of Brando's life.

If you couldn't tell from my description above, I was very disgusted with all of the adults in this book and I felt so bad for Brando. But what intrigued me was his ability to rise above his quite horrible upbringing and forge his own identity and personality. Of course, this personality is not a flawless one and has its share of issues but overall I'm convinced that the narrator rose above his obstacles and dealt with them in the best way that he knew how. He is obviously a bright and talented man and I imagine him to be quite gentle-natured as well. The writing in this book is overall excellent, although there are some tense issues I found problematic. I know that in a memoir there are often flashbacks mixed with in-the-moment "memories" mixed with foreshadowing and the like, but it would often change from one tense to another within the same paragraph or so and that left me a bit confused and distracted. Otherwise I enjoyed the flow of the story and found the subject matter to be very compelling. At times I couldn't put the book down and it was one of those rare treats that I just wanted to savor and immerse myself in.

I thought about giving this book four stars due to the tense issues but it is one of my all-time favorites and so I give it five stars despite its flaws. And I give the narrator five stars for "surviving" such a crappy upbringing and for telling his story so eloquently. I feel that he has made beautiful art out of an ugly past and I was glad that he had shared his story with me.
Profile Image for Barb.
273 reviews2 followers
August 19, 2014
What does it take to crush the spirit of a child? Denigrate him constantly. Marry five men, each marriage long enough for a child to bond to his new "father", then banish each man from the home in a fit of pique. Put the burden of blame for the breakups on the child and continue to have many many more boyfriends. Purge your son's childhood memories by cutting out the photo images of past father figures. Remove the security of an ethnic identity and moral code. That should do it. But there's more.

Take This Man: A Memoir, by Brando Skyhorse, a Pen/Hemingway award winning author, is a powerful book, achingly honest and difficult to read…yet who can tear themselves away. We need to know that Brando survives this tortuous toxic life and thrives into adulthood...please!

Brando Skyhorse was born and carelessly raised in Echo Park, Los Angeles by a volcanic tempered, expletive spewing, narcissistic mother who gave him an Indian sounding name to reflect her fantasy desire to be an American Indian rather than of Mexican decent. But Brando is intelligent and resilient and when a lifeline is provided grasps it tightly. Somehow the gift of reading and writing planted early in his brain allows him to pull himself up, and we all benefit from his self reflection honestly and insight.

This book may sound like a hatchet job on his mother but, on the contrary, at times I think Mr. Skyhorse is too easy on her and the cruel damage she inflicted on him. I hope that, when he feels ready, he does choose to be a father someday. Then he will realize that the feelings of deep love and protection, of putting someone's needs before your own were missing from his broken mother. In spite of his misgivings I think Brando Skyhorse would make a great father.
673 reviews7 followers
September 6, 2016
I received Take This Man as part of a Goodreads giveaway.

"Unconventional" is not strong enough of a word to describe Brando Skyhorse's upbringing. Mexican-American by birth, his mother Maria lied to him for years about his heritage (that he was Native American) and the identity of his father (who he was told was an incarcerated American Indian activist). Over the course of Brando's childhood and adolescence, five fathers cycled through his life, most dodgy characters in ways that ranged from the criminal to the just plain sad.

The constants in the story--Brando, his mother Maria, and his grandmother June--are heartbreakingly real--Brando as a generally smart and sensitive kid trapped in a vortex of dysfunction, his adoring but tough grandmother who has a strange soft spot where her daughter is concerned, and Maria herself, who manages to steal the narrative with her larger than life personality that manifested itself in destructive and often emotionally abusive ways. As much as I wanted to throttle her, though, there was something about her that I couldn't absolutely hate. She was just so sad--a mess--and it's a shame she had to take it out on her son. It's amazing to me that Brando has turned out as relatively well-adjusted as he has, though as he recounts in the closing pages, his rocky childhood has had a lasting effect on his personal relationships.

A really fascinating read that will make many people thankful for the upbringing they had.
236 reviews8 followers
September 6, 2014
Let's be clear here.I'm only half way through and all I can say is this book needs about 4000 gallons of WD-40. Some shmaltz, some fat, some something. It's just so damn dry and lifeless that it's boring me to tears.None of it seems believable but worse none of it is good to read. It needs some chicken fat- some bloody life to make it readable.There's just no umphh in this story. The writing is just that - writing. Nothing else. A whole lot of words -jammed together-making it just too dry to read. I'll finish it though because I liked his last book. But so far- feh..JM
I finished it -but what a chore. What a lousy book. Hard to read. Nothing very interesting - and frankly I think he was playing to the bleeding hearts in the crowd- which is a royal pain in the ass. Like look at how vulgar and ugly our Mexican lives are. And sure enough the critics ate it up.So he had a crazy mother. So? big deal . Everyone has a crazy mother. And this whole shmaltzy BS about"Finding his father....?" Give me a break.
What kind of heart string was he pulling there? Absolutely did not touch me in the slightest. At one point it almost got interesting- or it could have when he- "Brando" got fat and pimply in high school. Now that could've been interesting but alas our pal "Brando" dropped fast.Apparently-It wasn't literary enough.Running with Scissors was a Memoir. This is a phone book. I don't like being played and I don't like being played by a lousy writer. JM
Profile Image for Alder Yarrow.
37 reviews
July 25, 2014
What a fantastic and breathless memoir. We all think our parents are crazy, but you ain't seen nothin' until you've met Brando's mom. Surviving his childhood was a remarkable feat. Surviving it to be able to write a book filled with such humanity and grace is a triumph. If you liked the Glass Castle, this is even better. Highly recommended.
305 reviews
July 24, 2014
Brando Skyhorse, a Pen/Hemingway award winner, was raised in the 1980s in the then-sketchy neighborhood of Echo Park adjacent to Dodger Stadium. He lived with his Mexican mother, Maria, who pretended that they were Native American, a bisexual grandmother who pretended that she was straight, and a series of no-account stepfathers who each got out when the getting was no longer good, taking "the small piece of me that wanted to be a man's son. With each successive father, that piece was regenerated, much larger than before, emerging each time with a stronger casing, a more cynical skin. . . ." Maria, a success as a phone sex operator, selected perspective suitors based on what part of the country she wished to visit, and she brought home man after man -- former prisoners, alcoholics, residents of homeless shelters -- who she exhorted her son to accept as the father he so desperately wanted. Some promised a life "free from the burdens of having to be my mother's full-grown man when I haven't even learned how to be a boy," but they all disappointed. "I'd been forgotten, easily abandoned, a distraction, an acceptable sidekick, a transparent sponge to soak up their truths and desires, and not able to express my own."

After fleeing for Stanford, then UC Irvine, followed by New York, Brando learns that he was not the son of an incarcerated Native American activist but, rather, that his Mexican birth father had abandoned him at 3 and raised another family within miles of Brando's childhood home. Forging a relationship with his father, and the half-sisters he had never known, allowed him to reconcile with his now-deceased mother. What made my mother tell incredible stories? "Stories can help you survive. They can transform your life -- they can transform you from where you are into wherever you want to be." Brando has written a remarkable, transformative memoir.
Profile Image for DeB.
968 reviews247 followers
February 15, 2016
On page 108 of Take This Man by Brandon Skyhorse, I paused to consider why I was reading this book. In general, I appreciate memoirs. I thought that I would appreciate and learn why many of my favourite authors, who had written their own moving personal stories, endorsed this one so glowingly. Neither, I realized, had come to pass by this point in the book.

A motley group of Goodreads reviews hinted at where I might find the real magic...at the end of this man's memoir, after all the words reporting the tragic, repetitively cruel treatment of his negligent mother and grandmother. I turned to page 220, and finally was able to FEEL the person behind the story, the inner search, to appreciate his eloquence, to see a damaged man try to come to terms with the chaos of his father's abandonment and his mother's casual selection of husbands as serial father substitutions. Skyhorse told us his tale. It came from a person disconnected from and trying to survive a crazy world. However, the person, the child and the author did not connect emotionally until the final written pages and as a result neither could I.
Profile Image for Melissa Gill.
9 reviews
July 1, 2014
I loved this book, though sad as it is. I couldn't help but feel the author's pain as he was let down time and again, and treated so cruelly by his mother and grand mother. He is very honest and very giving in this story about his life. I am happy for him that he finally got to know his family and his sister. I'm also sad for him that the father he so desperately needed and wanted his whole life was really just a few miles away from him the whole time. Did his father's fear of being deported really trump the love he could've or should've had for his own son? A very powerful memoir and certainly glad I read it.
Profile Image for Brooke.
776 reviews9 followers
December 22, 2014
I did not enjoy reading this book. Not one bit. There was not a single idyllic moment in Skyhorse's childhood. It was lies and shouting and instability. His mother's never-diagnosed mental illness (unless she were simply a huge asshole) muddied every almost-good memory. But, in the end, Brando finds people who don't lie and shout and try to break him. It hardly seems enough, but somehow it's hopeful.
Profile Image for Christine .
125 reviews
July 5, 2014
I really enjoyed this memoir. the writing was great and the story was fascinating while difficult to read at times. The ending was very satisfying.
Profile Image for Trinna.
251 reviews2 followers
March 5, 2022
*language warning

Crazy story. Similar feel to The Glass Castle & Educated. Just wish it left out the language.
Profile Image for Brandy.
44 reviews
August 4, 2017
I hope Brando feels peace and resolve in his heart.
Profile Image for Lea.
385 reviews3 followers
September 13, 2018
Another memoir done so right! His experiences come across raw and eloquent. His inner turmoil about his craving for a dad (and a “good” mom) and trying to balance the anger and disappointments from all angles is very clearly portrayed here. I’m always amazed at how these broken children can use these traumas in such a beautiful and productive way.
Profile Image for Scott.
498 reviews59 followers
December 31, 2014
Take This Man falls squarely in crazy-crazy-CRAZY-childhood memoir genre (Running With Scissors, Glass Castle, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, etc.), filled with stories that for the most part successfully walk the line between "just depressing Jerry Springer-ish TV fodder" and "genuinely sad/strangely exhilarating how'd-he-survive-that" material. For the most part. Sometimes I did feel gross bearing witness, like I was stuck in an airless ER waiting room or something, and some terrible family was near me screaming at each other while the child bleeds out. What saves, and maybe even elevates, Take This Man is author Brando Skyhorse, who is clearly smart, admirably honest, and uses his likeable voice and first-rate storytelling abilities to occasionally funny, more-occasionally devastating effect. How he got his name, for instance--he's full Mexican, not a drop of Native American--is just one of many smh moments here.

The outline is this: Skyhorse is the only child (maybe) of a delusional, hysterical (in the bad sense) mom, and they both live with his mean-as-hell grandmother in Echo Park, California. These two women are horrible people. Sure, they're sick, undoubtedly diagnose-ably mentally ill, but fuck it, I'm not forgiving them. Anyway, over the course of Skyhorse's childhood and through college and beyond, five different men lay claim (or don't) to being his father. They are less horrible, but still, some pretty messed up male parenting goes down, too. His longing for one of these men to step up, to protect/save him from his mom (with whom he's disasterously codependent), to not abandon him, is the central quest of the tale. Also the least convincing. I found Skyhorse to be too self-pitying/entitled when it came to his parental expectations. Yes, his story is FAR more insane than most, but that doesn't mean his feelings are unique. But when Skyhorse sticks to the facts, to paraphrase his mom's motto, it's definitely never boring.
Profile Image for Caitlin Dunn.
20 reviews12 followers
September 12, 2017
Brando seems to have no insight into anyone outside of himself; everyone else is just a one-dimensional figure that is only described in ways they've disappointed him.
He struggles to sound like a writer, using so much unnecessary filler that any story would seem tedious; and this one doesn't need help.

"On the drive to Candido's house, we struggled for small talk like picking up pennies wearing oven mitts."
I can just picture him at his computer thinking of any other thing that is difficult. "Oh, I know! Picking up pennies with oven mitts."
Constant padding is used in lieu of any insights or human touch. Maybe he wasn't sitting at his computer; I think the computer wrote the whole thing.

And worst of all, Brando is unlikable. Apparently growing up feeling as though he had no one to truly care about him turned him into a whiny narcissist.

*I'm a clinically depressed person with a traumatic childhood, myself. So it's okay. ;)

"I listened to the wind howl against the sides of the building and imagined jumping from our window, wondering how many seconds I'd have in the air before I hit the sidewalk. I turned away from Kitt whenever she touched me because I couldn't respond to her touch. I wasn't feeling a thing for the woman I loved. I sat in a single spot on the couch from the time Kitt left for work to the time she came home, cataloguing the passing hours based on the way sunlight moved through the apartment. She would shout out to me from the front door every day she arrived from work, desperate not to hear the whooshing sound of an open window, dreading a suicide letter cocked on an end table jutting out at her like a spoiled tongue."

You see that? Who is Kitt beyond his girlfriend? We're just wandering around his pity party, shaking hands with undescribed shadows. We haven't been properly introduced, and we wont be. Welcome to the party.
Profile Image for Jessica.
802 reviews28 followers
April 21, 2015
(I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway.)

I have no doubt that Mr. Skyhorse's memoir will stay with you long after you finish it. It often reads like fiction, because you'll find yourself reading it and thinking to yourself "this can't be real, how could this be real?" I think I often forget about the struggles of others as I most commonly read fiction novels and, personally, had a pretty ideal childhood. Skyhorse's memoir will remind you to not take what you have for granted and will open your eyes and your mind as he gives us a detailed, intimate glimpse into his unconventional childhood, no holds barred. I hope to read more from him in the future and recommend this book to anyone and everyone! (My four star rating is only because I sometimes found myself lost, chronologically, wondering what year it was and how old Mr. Skyhorse was during certain memories.)
Profile Image for Danielle.
Author 4 books74 followers
March 1, 2015
"Routine is uninteresting to recall and often unmemorable to record"

The problem is, that's what this book felt like to me: a recording of events. The best writing is at the end of the book, and I had to slog through the first 250 pages.

At times, overwritten, and scenes are rarely developed. Something significant happens and I want to say, wait, hold on! Rest here and let me explore this moment. But for the reader, there are few moments to stop and reflect. Skyhorse tells us what he thinks is important, and then we move on.

And every time he employs air quotes, I had to resist throwing the book down.
Profile Image for Lisa.
136 reviews
August 14, 2016
I didn't like this memoir nearly as much as I liked Skyhorse's novel, The Madonnas of Echo Park. While he has an interesting story to tell, I feel he does a better job in the arena of fiction. This memoir suffers from what many memoirs suffer from - the author is more interested in his life than the reader is motivated to be. In his fiction, the sentences are so well crafted and the characters are multi-dimensional; here, I couldn't generate enough interest in Skyhorse's five fathers or much affection for his grandmother or mother because the language lacks subtly and nuance. I just hope that Skyhorse will return to his true calling - fiction.
Profile Image for Renee.
1,483 reviews21 followers
July 16, 2014
"Take This Man" is an astonishing memoir giving literary competition to Tobias Wolff's "This Boy's Life".

How Brando Skyhorse not only survived, but flourished as an accomplished writer, after being raised by little more than a pack of wolves is a feat in of itself.

Skyhorse's beautifully told story of his bizarre childhood and his search for a father moved me in greatly. I read "The Madonnas of Echo Park", written by this author years ago and await his next book.
Profile Image for Ramona Mead.
1,275 reviews32 followers
January 4, 2019
Hands down one of the most powerful memoirs I've encountered that resonates with me deeply in regard to my own childhood and family history. Skyhorse chronicles his childhood with humor and raw honest reflection. Growing up with five stepfathers and a mother who was delusional and selfish, Brando is constantly questioning who he is and bounces between love and resenting his mom, who seems determined to not allow him to have a genuine father.
434 reviews7 followers
April 3, 2014
This was areally good book. I had no idea what is was about at the beginning but really started to enjoy the way he talked about his child hood. It was happy and sad at the same time.His moms little quote,"At least it never gets boring" was so true for this boy. I hope he finds peace in himself because he turned out to be quite a guy considering the life he lived.
Profile Image for Siegfried.
2 reviews10 followers
February 2, 2015
An interesting story that is sadly hidden behind simply poor writing. Brando's simply rubbish at writing sentences and his style is underdeveloped and awkward. It's a pity, really. If you power through it there are some things to be gleaned from this book but it simply suffers too much under its stylistic problems and its confused themes.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 187 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.