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Mississippi Sissy

3.6  ·  Rating details ·  1,367 Ratings  ·  198 Reviews
Mississippi Sissy is the stunning memoir from Kevin Sessums, a celebrity journalist who grew up scaring other children, hiding terrible secrets, pretending to be Arlene Frances and running wild in the South.

As he grew up in Forest, Mississippi, befriended by the family maid, Mattie May, he became a young man who turned the word "sissy" on its head, just as his mother taugh
Paperback, 352 pages
Published March 4th 2008 by Picador (first published 2007)
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K.D. Absolutely
Sep 02, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: Nowhere
Nicely written. I did not have any idea who Sessums was and after reading this book, I felt that he was like a friend to me. He shared everything including the emotional and physical tortures that he suffered from the hands of his father who could not accept him as gay, the sexual abuse and rape that he experienced at his young age and the many other homosexual encounters that he had with his lovers.

Looks like a typical gay boyhood memoir, right? Well, prior to this, I read America's Boy: A Memo
May 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wouldn't have read this memoir, by a gay emeritus of the Vanity Fair staff, if my book club hadn't picked it, which goes to show the value of book clubs. This is a thoughtful, un-self-pitying reflection on an extremely tough childhood and adolescence. (Just for starters, as the book jacket lets on, Sessums was orphaned by age 8.) The memoir is also, for this lesbian who could pass as straight, an interesting look into the world of a boy who never could have passed and apparently never tried to ...more
Bob Redmond
Feb 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
Imagine this likely scenario: 24 year-old new graduate from a writing program from a Major University releases their first book. Although said graduate has not been out of school since before kindergarten, they've chosen a memoir. Write what you know! say the teachers (themselves having published memoirs). The new grad's story revolves around some autobiographical hook (born albino, raised by a pet Corgi, lived in a van in Alaska and wrote a lot of songs...) which may be interesting enough. Ulti ...more
Jul 04, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a brilliant, beautifully written, and generally accurate account of the universal experience all queer Mississippi natives share in regards to our upbringing and childhoods. Kevin Sessums perfectly relates those all-too-familiar feelings of isolation, of not belonging, of feeling a confusing empathy with African-Americans in his world, and especially of being told time and time again that he thinks he's better than Mississippi, and disagreeing exactly halfway with that assessment of his ...more
Sep 11, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
As a southerner and proponent of gay rights, I was intrigued by this memoir. Early on, I began to realize that I found it hard to trust Sessums in his accounts of what he thought and felt as a very young child. Not that I think he doesn't know or remember, but that he seems willing to attribute extremely sophisticated reflection and vocabulary ("chicanery," really?) to his four-year-old self. Toward the middle of the book, I just became a little put off by his compulsion to describe his emerging ...more
Mark Gaulding
Dec 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Astonished. What can I say. As a gay boy who grew up a sissy in the South, I completely identified with the alienation that Sessums felt. But the ability of this boy/man to transcend the most awful of setbacks early in life is without a doubt one of the more inspiring stories I've ever read. I finished this book over three months ago and I am still haunted and bewitched by this book. The women in this book are full of such strength. The author's mother, grandmother, his maid Matty Mae, his Aunt ...more
Sep 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mississippi Sissy, fantastically written with long canters, tells Kevin's story in the format of a conversation, like someone might have sitting around a Southern table in the kitchen sharing sweet tea with a neighbor. I loved the style, the insertions and tangents, and the story itself - honest, brutal, vulgar, but mostly honest - at moments, I was surprised he would share the secrets which we all keep, those twisted, tarnished riches we keep locked away, as if treasure in our hearts and minds, ...more
Kade Boehme
Jan 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gah. Found this paperback when unpacking boxes in my new apartment. Hadn't read it in year but so very happy to have re-read it. Will always be one of my favorites and such an important read to me as a gay kid raised in the south.
Aug 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Being a Minnesota Sissy, I found this a painful read at times. But still, I read this pretty quickly, finding it very hard to put down. Sussum’s prose is a little flowery for me, but he weaves a darn good story, flashing between the present and the past. Truly some unforgettable characters. Warning: a couple of pretty graphic sex scenes; also a graphic description of a murder victim. Totally appropriate in this book; very much a part of the story – just thought I’d warn ya!
Jan 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
GREAT memoir about a little boy growing up hopelessly gay in rural Mississippi and where his "adventures" eventually lead him. This one I will read again from time to time, though have to buy a new one. Loaned it out, and it never came back. Hopefully it is still making the circuit I started by loaning it in the first place!
Mississippi Library Commission
Mississippi Sissy is one of those books that changes you. We dove right in, and were instantly enveloped in this fascinating, heart-breaking, humorous, Southern life story. Afterwards, it felt as if the world weren't quite the same place that it was before we began, and that's a really good thing. Highly recommended.
Jun 10, 2008 rated it liked it
This autobiography started off well enough but then descended into a long drawn out affair that sadly became a chore to finish. Sessums repeats himself endlessly but I blame the editor for not stopping this self-indulgence. Did the editor just pack it in half-way through the autobiography? Maybe I should have.

There were a few magical moments that showcased his writing. One example that springs to mind is his retelling of a conversation between his grandmother, her sister (Vena Mae) and her siste
Mary Henderson
This is the most heartbreaking, affecting book I've read since Pat Conroy's autobiography. Forest, Sessums' Mississippi home, is 30 miles from Carthage, my husband's childhood home where we still spend a lot of time, so I understand the culture. (I'm just glad I missed the old, segregated days. I don't think I could have stood to be around all that hatred and prejudice.)

Sessums was obviously homosexual even from a very early age. His parents died within a year of each other when he was a small
Sep 17, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: ohhh, this question caused quite a stir at Book Club...
This book, in the words of my roommate, is NOT for sissies. It's raw and honest and heartbreaking. I cried. More than once. More than twice.

Not an easy read, emotionally speaking, but totally worthwhile. Sessums' writing is deliberate and well crafted, weaving multiple stories and decades together. Many of his chapters (and the book as a whole, really) spiral seamlessly back on themselves. Sessums is especially eloquent when it comes to describing his deep-south relatives.

There was more than a
May 22, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An engaging narrative using interjected anecdotes to convey a life story as though through a series of long conversations, yet maintaining the strong narrative arc of a novel. Sessums weaves together his story with continuity of thematic elements from childhood through young-adulthood, capturing the religious and political climate of the Southern U.S. in the 50s and 60s from his particular vantage and through his experience. Empowering the word "sissy," this is a thoughtful portrayal of a specif ...more
Del Zimmerman
Jul 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
Nice, solid summer read... I was expecting something much lighter than what it ended up being, however... Being from the South, I could relate to many of the stories he shares... could have done without some of the graphic sex scenes -- they seemed to be a bit gratuitous... Loved hearing about his growing up near Eudora Welty...
Apr 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one rowdy memoir. A little feller growing up gay in Mississippi. I near 'bout died laughing at the scene where he goes slam crazy at the Halloween fair. Toward the end he has true tales to tell of carryings on with Eudora Welty and other literary types. I really enjoyed it . . . but it ain't for the faint of heart.
Joey Stocks
Fantastic! Kevin Sessums is the writer Augusten Bourroughs wishes he were.
I am a fan of memoirs, and found this book on a list of memoirs. I borrowed this book from the library & am glad I didn't spend money on it. It is about an effeminate young boy growing up in the deep South whose father is a coach and family is quite religious. For some reason, I thought it was about a little boy who was ridiculed as a child & how he overcame it. I didn't quite realize this book was about coming to terms with being homosexual before I began reading it. That would have bee ...more
Apr 28, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This one looks like it's one of those crazy memoirs like Augustin Burroughs. But actually it's a really dark, disturbing memoir. I didn't enjoy it much at all. He had a pretty bleak childhood. But he's a fantastic writer so there were passages that were transcendent. His writing kept me going. My favorite sentence in the book:

"One of his sons, a brainy sort who was a linguist who had been called by God to interpret the Bible into languages as yet to be transcribed, had asked a first cousin of mi
Mar 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
An interesting memoir about growing up in Mississippi during the 60's and 70's as a "sissy". Frankly, I found the tidbits about Eudory Welty and the juxtaposition of Sessions personal story with the civil rights events transpiring in the deep south during that time more interesting than the gay coming of age story, which is of course the premise for the memoir. While I hate to sound like a prude, I also found the book occassionally a bit graphic for my taste. I asked myself if it was because the ...more
Oct 27, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hard to choose the star rating. The book was written well. The author had a strange life as a child in Mississippi -- he definitely was a sissy. I had to skip chunks of it in the last third or fourth -- the vivid descriptions of pedophilia and homosexual acts were too much. The descriptions did not, for me, add to his memoir -- I believe I could learn just as much about him without the details. So, I liked what I read but not enough to recommend it to anyone else without the "warning" about "a l ...more
Jean Brown
Very few books shock me but this one did...not for the faint of heart but there were things I loved in it...the view it gave of Mississippi literary life alone would have been enough to make the book good but the personal story was shocking to me...I guess because there was one incident I just did not see coming and it was so unexpected I was left reeling.
Feb 11, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Don't bother. It's one thing to have had life experiences, and it's quite another to write about them so a reader wants to go along and share them or, at least, consider them. This memoir about growing up, orphaned and gay, in the South, sounded terrific, especially on NPR and in reviews. Hard to imagine making so little out of so much material.
Sep 24, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Sessums describes his childhood with relentless honesty and keen insight – a treat for those who (like me) find the American South somewhat mysterious. Unfortunately, the book is overlong. Minor events that could've been described in a couple of pithy pages are dragged out into chapter-long episodes of workmanlike prose, diminishing their impact considerably.
Raffy Rillo
Apr 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
We are defined in what we do, not in what we are. I loved the book. It's a pageturner of a memoir. His childhood resembles close to mine but mine is yet to come. One of the best since Mary Karr, & Jeanette Walls memoirs. I love it! Two thumbs up! :)
Andrew Heffner
I liked this book. The story moved at a nice pace. An interesting childhood. Not unlike a lot of gays.
Jun 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: have-read
After World War II, the American Psychiatric Community labeled homosexuality a mental illness and lobotomies for homosexuality were being regularly performed in the United States (Cowboy Frank). Despite great fear, lesbians and gay men experienced a continuous, dynamic, and growing political consciousness during the fifties.
“He don’t see you, Vena Mae. He’s got his highfalutin mask on,” said my grandmother. ‘Call him Arlene and you might get an answer out of him.’ Aunt Vena Mae cocked an eyebrow
Jennifer Pino
Solid memoir about growing up gay in the deep South in the 1960s/1970s.

I was drawn to the memoir with the promise of gossip about Eudora Welty and other Southern literari...which was there, but there was much more.

Jul 17, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good discussion in book group. Sessums is a gifted story teller.
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