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The Terrible: A Storyteller's Memoir

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From an explosive new literary talent, a searing, moving memoir of family, adolescence and sexuality.

'You may not run away from the thing that you are because it comes and comes and comes as sure as you breathe.'

This is the story of Yrsa Daley-Ward, and all the things that happened - 'even the Terrible Things (and God, there were Terrible Things)'. It's about her childhood in the north-west of England with her beautiful, careworn mother Marcia, Linford (the man formerly known as Dad, 'half-fun, half-frightening') and her little brother Roo, who sees things written in the stars. It's about growing up and discovering the power and fear of her own sexuality, of pitch grey days of pills and powder and encounters. It's about damage and pain, but also joy. Told with raw intensity, shocking honesty and the poetry of the darkest of fairy tales, The Terrible is a memoir of going under, losing yourself, and finding your voice.

224 pages, Kindle Edition

First published June 5, 2018

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About the author

Yrsa Daley-Ward

5 books814 followers
Yrsa Daley-Ward is a writer and poet of mixed West Indian and West African heritage. Born to a Jamaican mother and a Nigerian father, Yrsa was raised by her devout Seventh Day Adventist grandparents in the small town of Chorley in the North of England. Her first collection of stories 'On Snakes and Other Stories' was published by 3:AM Press.

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5 stars
1,584 (43%)
4 stars
1,313 (36%)
3 stars
573 (15%)
2 stars
106 (2%)
1 star
36 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 409 reviews
Profile Image for Warda.
1,125 reviews17.7k followers
June 28, 2020
“Pull yourself together. You are an African, the most magical kind of human there is.”

I knew that this book would break my heart and it did. It’s a memoir of Yrsa dealing with life’s challenges (understatement) and it is a raw, brutal and honest account.

There are four parts to this book, each section exploring a different stage in the authors life, the tone of the book and the language changing with it and echoing its time frame.

Thought it is poetry, the writing does an incredible job of weaving those four parts together and through it, a whole and vivid story was captured. It was extremely heavy to read at times, as the truth of it weighs you down.

As I was reading it, I was processing a whole range of emotions. What stood out to me the most — and this’ll have to do with me projecting out my own personal fear of having and raising children if that ever happens — is how difficult raising and nurturing one is, especially when you had to move countries. Serious props to those parents! There’s no way you could blame the mother for the unintentional neglect of her children. Or maybe it was intentional, but it was never the goal. The mother herself was dealing with her own set of problems, which unfortunately did have a knock-on effect in the neglect of her children and you can feel those words vibrating off the pages as Yrsa describes her desperate need for her mother to be there for her, to be loved. Thus, this led to her looking for ways to fill that void.

Themes such as immigration, parenthood (particularly single parenthood), race, drug abuse and depression are spoken of in a real and colourful way.

There’s a chapter that depicts depression in its most ugliest form and I’d probably recommend it for those pages alone. It is ridiculously powerful and god, it hurt to read.

I feel like I was wounded in the process of reading this book. I know it’ll linger for a while. It’s one of those stories that will have you looking at life from an angle you haven’t been exposed to before and if this isn’t what books should be doing, I don’t know what is.

Thank you Penguin UK for sending me a copy.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
771 reviews1,148 followers
July 10, 2020
Brilliant, absolutely brilliant! I loved Yrsa Daley-Ward's book of poetry Bone and was thrilled to see she'd written a memoir. The Terrible is part verse, part prose, telling the story of Yrsa's life thus far. She grew up with her younger brother, living with her devout Seventh Day Adventist grandparents in the north of England. She never knew her father, only that he was a professor in Nigeria. Her mother had issues of her own, leaving her unable to raise Yrsa and Roo when they were younger.

This memoir is so open and honest, raw and compelling. Yrsa delves into her thoughts and feelings of growing up without her father and with only a semi-present mother. She writes of what it was like to be one of only a couple black students in an otherwise "white" school. She explores her sexuality and writes of her experiences with drugs. Yrsa writes courageously, sharing her inner self and her life. She writes beautifully and with raw emotion. Fans of Yrsa Daley-Wards poems will not be disappointed in this memoir, and those who might dislike poetry but enjoy memoirs will probably enjoy it as well. It can be read in just one or two sittings, and, as I stated above, it's brilliant!
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,395 reviews2,387 followers
May 11, 2018
I didn't find this as fresh or original as I hoped: Daley-Ward creates a dark memoir of alienation, depression and a downward spiral of drink, drugs and sex, occasionally lit by flares of imagination and sparse moments of love and connection.

But I found this over-written in places, and the free-verse form gimmicky with random line breaks and occasional right-margin justification which have no effect on meaning or interpretation.

There's so much white space on each page that this is a speedy read, non-judgmental and open, and I can imagine it being therapeutic to write. I just seem to have read many similar stories lately of off-the-rails young women with vexed and troubled relationships to their family, race, sexual identity and body.

Profile Image for Read By RodKelly.
205 reviews753 followers
June 29, 2018
I knew this would be great but wow!

This memoir-in-verse is stunningly candid, often invoking painful memories that highlight what seems to be universal pain and trauma that black children inherit from their parents. The truth of this touched me while I read because Yrsa Daley-Ward does not shy away from the subject: she points a finger at her mother's parenting, her grandparents religious strictness, the stream of men who treated her as a sexual object, and consequently, her foray into being a sex worker...

She mediates on depression and her battle with drugs and alcohol; her mother's death from breast cancer, her father's death before she could even meet him and on and on.

This is a litany of pain and ultimately the transcendence of that pain: she helped me understand that "the terrible" thing that may seem a destructive force in our lives is really just one part of who we are, and it actually has the power to save us.
Profile Image for leynes.
1,083 reviews2,931 followers
June 9, 2019
Disclaimer: I won this book for my BookTubeAThon Book Dominoes Challenge (woop woop!), I wasn't asked to review it but since I got it for free and wouldn't have picked it up on my own I think it's important to mention that. ///

I always feel like the ultimate asshole when I rate biographies and memoirs low because who am I to judge another person's life or how a person decided to share their experiences with the world, yet here we are. And I feel like a douche saying it: but The Terrible was pretty dang terrible. I don't think I've ever read a memoir that was as badly written, and that is coming from a girl who highkey struggled with Trevor Noah's Born A Crime.

Yrsa Daley-Ward is a poet. She has published her first poetry collection Bone to great success in 2014. She belongs to the new generation of modern poets, the ones that get easily belittled and referred to as "Insta Poets". Now, I don't want to disrespect her or her work, and I genuinely believe that poetry comes in many different shapes and forms, but this particular style of poetry is totally 100% absolutely not for me. It isn't original and seems very "copy & paste".

By "this style", I refer to modern poets who count on simplicity and loose structures, whose poems are often made up of just a few sentences. Again, nothing wrong with that, it just doesn't work for me. The reason why I was still excited to pick up The Terrible was the fact that this is a lyrical memoir, not a traditional poetry collection. Yrsa talks about her life, her upbringing in particular, about all the things that happened to her, 'even the Terrible Things (and God, there were Terrible Things)'.

Born to a Jamaican mother and a Nigerian father, Yrsa was raised by her devout Seventh-Day Adventist grandparents in the small town of Chorley in the north of England. Other major influences in her life are, of course, her careworn mother Marcia, Linford (the man formerly known as Dad, 'half-fun, half-frightening') and her little brother Roo, who 'sees things written in the stars'. It's about growing up and discovering the power and fear of her own sexuality, of pitch grey days of pills and powder and encounters. It's about damage and pain, but also joy.

Intentionally, Yrsa chose verse over prose as a means to tell her story. Unfortunately, that style didn't work for me. I think that The Terrible is extremely badly written, and the fact that Yrsa tried to be poetic in her writing made everything even more terrible (no pun intended). Her life and all of the things she had to endure growing up would've made the perfect foundation for a memoir. For a woman so young, she sure as hell has gone through a lot already.

She grew up extremely poor and under extremely shady circumstances, her stepdad is honestly one of the creepiest men I've read about in a while. The moments that got the most under my skin were the ones in which Yrsa narrates how her mother tried to protect her from the sexual advances of her stepdad when Yrsa was as little as seven years old.

In her late teens, she worked as a sex worker and did a lot of drugs. She grew estranged from her family, wanted to be independent. The only reason why I rated this memoir two instead of just one star is exactly that reason: her life story had the potential of being compelling. I appreciate the fact that she shared it with the world. We need more Black female writers writing unapologetically about what they had to endure, how they create art, what life means to them.

I, for my part, hold no grudge against Yrsa in any shape or form. I'm glad she's out here striving, her work is just not for me. I try to incorporate quotes into my reviews, I just couldn't find any in this collection that were worth sharing. Everything I underlined was rather cheesy or generic. But that's okay. There are many readers who differ with me on this subject and who are out there eating that shit up. And that's okay too.
Profile Image for elisa.
187 reviews1,184 followers
July 1, 2021
the first 90 pages of the terrible were undeniably four stars for me. i thought yrsa daley-ward nailed the childlike landscape of her narrative, and that the minimalistic, lyric-like format of the memoir really enhanced the magic and tumult of growing up under uncertain (terrifying) conditions. in my opinion, the strongest narrative arc takes place at daley-ward's granddad and grandma's house, and flags from there.

after the 100 page mark, things take a downward turn. the narrative slows down and/or falls into cycles of repetition that are hard to sit through even in the very easily digestible poetic format daley-ward assumes for this memoir.

still, her life story is so singular that i couldn't help but feel enraptured by her storytelling, even when the narrative dragged, or the writing style fell flat. i think this is very much the kind of memoir that creeps up on you—particularly in terms of the subject matter's sad, heavy drag. the prose (poetry?) is easy; the material is not. that balancing act is constant throughout the memoir, although i'd argue that all the magic and wonder is concentrated in the first half (and was therefore my favorite).

i'm lowering my original four star rating for the second half, although i want to say that i loved the ending (those final few pages) so much i almost considered raising my rating back up to a four. i am holding firm, though, just because i didn't fall into her storytelling during the second half as dreamlessly as i had in the first.

regardless, this is a memoir worth picking up and pondering, so long as you're prepared to sit with your sadness.
Profile Image for fatma.
889 reviews528 followers
September 10, 2020
what a beautiful memoir. Yrsa Daley-Ward performs the hell out of the audiobook too. the byline of this book says it's "A Storyteller's Memoir," and it is absolutely right.
Profile Image for Nina.
987 reviews10 followers
July 14, 2018
A few months ago I read Bone, and the only thing I had to say at first was that I so badly wanted to hear the poetry spoken out loud. Then, at the beginning of June, I actually got the opportunity to see Yrsa, as her book tour for The Terrible had a stop in my city. Listening to her speak was as beautiful and as powerful as I had imagined, and walking out of that bookshop, I felt so inspired. Since that day I’ve had a copy of The Terrible, but have been waiting for the right time to read it. This week was the right time for me.

I can tell you now that I will come back to this book over and over and over again. It’s not the kind of novel that you can read once and truly appreciate every aspect, because it is so multilayered. It’s a memoir with elements of poetry and magic, and I was surprised at how much some of it hit home, particularly the parts about her grandparents. I also spent a lot of time when I was younger with my Caribbean grandparents, and even though Montserratian and Jamaican cultures are very different, there were certain things that made me laugh out loud because they were so accurate! My grandad passed away recently, and reading about her grandparents really filled me with a kind of warmth.

I also loved how brutally honest it is. I think it’s quite easy, especially when writing about something personal, to soften it at the edges to make it more palatable, more readable. Yrsa doesn’t seem to do that, and I think that made me enjoy the novel so much more. I was able to connect with the author and her story, because she was so human and flawed and that’s what made it so wonderful. She’s unapologetically honest and herself, and I really admire that. So yeah - go out and get yourself this book.
Profile Image for Lara Kareem.
Author 4 books92 followers
June 22, 2018
This book is so terribly good, it carries Yrsa's essence from the onset to the end. It is one dark tale, with glimpses of lights here and there, but so dark and powerful, Yrsa can't help but capture my attention with her story.

To me this memoir is one of a kind because it is truly a piece of art, it's like reading a beautiful long poem, verse-prose? that starts with how she came to be in this terrible hard world and how from an early age she had to learn to always look out for herself, in order to not get swallowed up.

The books touches on the power of the feminine sexuality, being sexually intimate from a young age, embracing being queer, despite religion, infidelity, confusion as well as discovering oneself, neglect, dealing with mental issues, parenthood, family, race and immigration etc.

Even now after almost two days of reading this book, it still lingers on my soul, the words I've read and digested painted across my being. All I can say is you give this memoir a try, and fall in love with Yrsa's writing.

The Terrible by Yrsa Daley-Ward is deep-cutting and an amazing example of the art of storytelling—when writing is done well to encompass the truth.
Profile Image for Nikita Gill.
Author 18 books4,655 followers
July 29, 2018
I love Yrsa Daley-Ward. I love the way she visualises her world. I love the way her brain works, and the way she puts pen to paper. Her work on instagram is gorgeous, but this, this was something otherworldly altogether. To make it clear, I have not yet read Bone, so this is the first full body of work I have read by Daley-Ward and it stunned me. Her command over language, her effective and simple way of telling an explosive story, it's all there. All of it. I wept for her in this memoir. I found my hands shaking with fear and anticipation more than once. And incredible book by an incredible writer. And I cannot wait to read more.
Profile Image for Laura King.
167 reviews27 followers
March 27, 2019
Yrsa Daley-Ward's memoir is a breath of fresh air, though the content can be heartbreaking at times. She tells her story through poetry and through prose, in mixing both manages to keep their reader on their toes and refuses to let itself be just a standard autobiography. It tells the story of her mixed West Indian and West African heritage, the devout grandparents who brought her and her little brother up in the north of England, and her working out sexuality and trauma, and emerging as the adult poet we know as the author of #Bone - which I have yet to read! Incredible memoir that feels more like verse than prose. So sad and gorgeous and compelling.
Profile Image for Katie.dorny.
967 reviews497 followers
June 30, 2020
A breathtaking and heartbreaking about growing up in the North of England and the trials and tribulations of growing up.

This memoir is mostly told in verse and dabbles in various different sentence structures which I loved. Everything became so intense and was so quick to draw you in and fly through.

There was nothing I didn’t love.
Profile Image for Melody.
64 reviews
June 18, 2018
4.5 stars - An emotional sucker punch.

Don’t you know you’re one of the lucky one? shouts the terrible. Don’t you know I’ve got you, you ungrateful, ungrateful creature? You wretch! Don’t you know those dark times kept you stronger? (thus sayeth the terrible). Don’t you know without me you would be just another girl with an everyday life and an almost-house always under construction and a man you tolerate and don’t really love and a father you met but who stopped you from doing anything and seeing the world, don’t you know you’d be a boring woman with bills and a horrible job and wrinkles around her eyes and babies and babies and a mortgage and savings and boring sex or no sex and a lukewarm life, DON’T YOU KNOW I FUCKING KEPT YOU SAFE???

Daley-Ward 'lyrical memoir' recounts a childhood of longing and isolation, a too-early maturation, and an adolescence full of sex, drugs, and heartbreaking decisions. Difficult to read, but hard to put down, it is a raw, brutally candid story of the author's lifelong insecurities and the sense of hopeless darkness - the 'terrible' - that drives her to self-destruction.

Knowing this is a personal account kept my heart in my throat; at times I almost felt it was too intimate for me to read. I admire Daley-Ward not only for the brilliant prose-poetry of her words, but for her courage in sharing them.
Profile Image for Julie.
1,912 reviews38 followers
December 25, 2021
Read in one sitting. I started reading and could not stop. Yrsa Daley-Ward's writing is truly compelling, heartrending, and relatable. I had to find out what happened to her and Roo.

Favorite lines:

"She smiles at me. Her eyes, like honey. Bronzeshining."

"Yes, mirror land is unreliable."

"It is a secret with sharp edges, a thick, serrated weight."

"I want to hold her hands but I can't feel my own. A daughter with no warmth in her body."

"Sometimes I hold my breath to give the thing some weight. Some promise."

Profile Image for Megan O'Hara.
177 reviews46 followers
February 21, 2020
it was written as prose/verse to pretty much no effect and no offense to her or her story but this felt like a lot of other memoirs about being depressed and fucked up that I need to stop reading in general.

cw: sexual violence, rape, pedophilia, suicide
Profile Image for Gabriella.
267 reviews237 followers
June 30, 2018
I was excited to read this book, because while I'm not really a fan of Yrsa Daley Ward's poetry, I do think the clarity she employs in that work would make for an intriguing memoir.

Not many things here are new experiences—oppressively religious grandparents, confusing and/or concerning childhood experiences with sexuality, and lots of self-despair, all of which funnel into a gripping depression beginning in Daley-Ward's young adult years, which we are still in the thick of by the end of this memoir. To her credit, these situations are described very well, as her brand of "storytelling" is both jarring and intimate, allowing readers a window seat into every emotion she describes. At the same time, she carries none of the graceful, trite pleasantries she could have described her life happenings with. While another memoirist would have been stifled from telling her full story due to a respect for elders, confines of feminine propriety, and so on, Daley-Ward tells her truth with a child's blunt honesty and a teenager's grudge, making for a story that gives no character the easy treatment.

Despite all these strengths, I felt like we travelled from her teenage years to young adulthood much too quickly, and confusingly. One day we wake up and she's doing ecstasy with another escort co-worker, and I just wasn't sure where/when the shift occurred. It's partially because this shift does NOT occur from a narrative perspective—in describing her early adult life, Daley-Ward never quite loses that teenager's rash, crestfallen perspective on the world, in a way that makes this book seem hasty and stunted. The end of this book felt very underprepared, with no real revelation or conclusion to these stories that I could find, and I think it's partially because our narrator hasn't yet found them herself.

I think books like these are one of those arguments for people waiting until they're older to recount their "life stories" in a memoir. Daley-Ward is only 29, and you can tell that she hasn't quite come to terms with her experiences in a way that could offer a clear arc to them. I'd love to see what this book might have looked like had it been written another 10 years down the road...
Profile Image for Mel.
688 reviews38 followers
December 18, 2019
In a style that transitions between traditional prose and a modified verse as well as first, second AND third person, Yrsa tells a heart-wrenching story of her mother’s troubles following a young pregnancy with her older brother and her own life as she grew up, exiled to her grandparents’ house because Marcia (her mother) had a boyfriend who couldn’t be trusted with Yrsa’s growing body. Separated from her younger brother, Roo, and her only parent Yrsa was forced to follow the strict religion of her grandparents and try to understand her burgeoning sexuality. She rarely sees her mother but soon receives news that her philandering Nigerian father, who she never met, has died, and Roo is acting out, acting troubled, likely experimenting with drugs. Yrsa grows up, also experimenting with sex and drugs and trying to figure out herself and how to make money. She gets engaged and her mother is sick and dies and Yrsa decided she can’t go through with a marriage to the man who is too good for her.

All throughout I felt expertly manipulated by Yrsa’s writing, and easily flipped through 80% of the book in a single evening. I’m in awe and aching for the Terrible she experienced, but hopeful that another book from her will show healing and growth and more fabulous prose.
Profile Image for chantel nouseforaname.
624 reviews305 followers
August 4, 2020
The way that pain echoes out in a life can either be constructed towards something larger than itself or internalized and carried to the grave. Yrsa Daley-Ward is an incredible writer.

After spending the majority of this weekend watching and re-watching Beyonce's new release Black Is King I kept seeing Yrsa's name as one of the main writers of the story. This led me to want to engage with more of her work, so I decided today to read her memoir. I own a copy of Bone, which I read years ago, but this has been on my read list for some time.

The Terrible is infinitely relatable. It's also a crazy read because when you can remember being a 14 year old girl fighting off the leers of older men, trying to understand how you became objectified without your consent and what your emotions are around that and then someone fearless like Yrsa comes and paints the picture of what happened.. it feels alarming. It feels like, how many of us? The adultification of young black and brown girls jumps in your mind and won't leave you. It's eye-opening when you read this true story, a story that has roots in so many young black women's lives that you know. You have to step back and marvel. You also cry.

Yrsa Daley-Ward details the experiences of many black youth trying to find their way in a world that seems at odds with the one that you experience at home. She exposed many of the circumstances that cause fraught family situations to be so. I loved this work. I loved it because it spoke to a part of me that seeks the green light towards releasing burdens carried. It spoke to the part of me that chases/chased down certain kinds of personal freedom. It was heartbreaking and incredibly distressing. There's beauty in doing for yourself, even when the methods hurt sometimes. It was anxiety provoking.

Her writing style going between poetry and short bursts of prose was dope. The exploration of the light experiences of childhood amidst the backdrop of familial strife and displacements, her rage, confusion and understanding... the resignation, curiosity, frustration and the need for kinship vs the chase for money, so many emotions and damn this book was short.

This book evokes the same feeling in me that watching I May Destroy You did. I understood yet felt upset by so much in here; although it was liberating to see her put it all out there. I highly recommend this.
Profile Image for Darkowaa.
163 reviews373 followers
October 29, 2018
Review to come! I’m leaning towards 4.5 stars...
Profile Image for Katharine.
234 reviews1,536 followers
August 5, 2020
I listened to this memoir in verse which was a wonderful reading experience. Yrsa's way with words has made her one of my favorites and I can't wait to pick up more of her writing.
Profile Image for Denise Cormaney.
618 reviews6 followers
October 19, 2018
Finished this one in a day. Whoa. I've never read anything like it.

Sometimes we hear a story about someone who has labels that society is quick to judge (drug user, prostitute, private dancer/escort), and it's easy to see those labels and jump to those judgments, all the while forgetting the person is a human being with a story that led to the present circumstances. And chances are, this human being did not start out in life with a stable home environment and loving parents who one day dreamed that she'd become a drug user/prostitute/private dancer/escort. Some painful, awful shit went down to get from there to here.

This memoir tells that story. But it is unlike any other memoir I've ever read. It's as if you sat down for coffee with a stranger and she just started at the beginning, in a stream-of-consciousness narrative that immediately draws you in. Normally I don't like this style of writing, but it works here: there's a sense of urgency, as if she needs to get her story out of her soul and into yours before she loses her nerve, and she can't waste time with proper prose form and evenly timed paragraphs. And there is zero sense of vying for sympathy, or even a redemption story. (I kept waiting for it, the redemption part. We all love a redemption story, don't we? This is not that. This reads like she barely made it out alive to write it all down.) It knocked me out.

Profile Image for Jen Pennington.
239 reviews2 followers
August 8, 2018
So glad I stumbled upon Yrsa Daley-Ward this year. Reading her work is like holding a beating heart in your hand. So alive and frightening and exciting and rare.
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