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BOOK REVIEW: Two Felicias, Two Memoirs, Two Triumphs

Two memoirs are definitely worth reading. Pages, brimming with poignant details, reveal the lives of two authors, victorious despite the odds.

"The Sky Isn't Visible from Here: A Memoir," Felicia Sullivan, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, February 2008, $23.95

Felicia Sullivan recalls an abusive, drug-addicted, alcohol-driven life. Her father disappears the day after she is born. Aunt Marisol, a heroin addict, eventually dies of a drug overdose. But Rosina, her defiant mother, is at the root of Sullivan's demons, addiction and emotional scars.

Rosina is suffocating, loud, abrasive and emotionally abusive. She is adept at job hopping and stealing, not only from her bosses, but from her daughter Felicia, as well, any means necessary to support an expensive drug habit.

Sullivan spends her childhood enveloped in her mother's drug-induced fog; and continues to live out an adult life in a foggy state of her own, consisting of daily cocaine and alcohol binges.

"I'm nothing like my mother" becomes her mantra. But she knows, despite constant denial, that she is her mother. Sullivan, a mirror of Rosina, is an alcoholic and a drug user. Both steal, lie and refuse to acknowledge their addiction.

I see my mother's shoulders quake, remember her nose, the bleeding, everything always stained red. Nights I see her hands slithering into my drawers, snatching my paper-route money. Her rent money squandered on glassine bags. I wince.

She attempts to "draw an imaginary line" between her and her mother. How long can they endure each other?

After Sullivan loses her job, she takes a leave of absence from studies at Columbia. Her best friend, Laurel, from college, attempts to intervene by telling Felicia that her friends don't like what they see. Her drinking is excessive and telltale signs of doping are obvious.

Sullivan's amazing transformation comes with Gus, her substitute father, and without her mother Rosina. And finally, one day, she remembers a wonderful relationship with her mom long ago, before cocaine.

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"Grace After Midnight: A Memoir," Felicia "Snoop" Pearson and David Ritz, Grand Central Publishing, November 2007, $22

Felicia "Snoop" Pearson lives a "thug" life. She is a hustler. This painful memoir begins with her birth. Pearson, a crack baby, is adopted by Cora and Levi Pearson. She has no relationship with her birth mother, strung out on drugs, nor her father who deals them.

It appears that Pearson's volatile path has been chosen for her, but intervention comes often, a blessing that she often ignores. The good influences in her life include supportive, adoptive parents and her godmother, Denise Robbins.

Bad influences encourage "Snoop" to step up her game.

"I ain't killing no one," I said. "Don't want her killed, Snoop. Just hurt real bad." "How much?" I asked. "Fifty now. Fifty when it's done." I waited a day, followed her down the street, and pulled her in the alley. Pistol-whipped her hard, then beat her with a table leg. Broke her leg and shoulder.

Surviving in the streets of East Baltimore isn't easy, and for Felicia, obstacles appear insurmountable. Her sexual identity leads to poor relationships and bad decisions threaten her life. On one occasion, a "crazy" lady began swinging a lead baseball bat at Felicia's head, and "Snoop" figured there was only one way to stop her to shoot her dead. After killing a total stranger and feeling little remorse, Felicia begins serving an eight-year sentence, five years without parole, at the Jessup State Penitentiary.

The death of Uncle Lonly, a mentor and good friend, sparks a turning point in her life. Pearson exits prison with a renewed passion for change. Her big break comes with a trip to a local bar and a chance meeting with Michael K. Williams, an actor from "The Wire," a critically acclaimed HBO series.

Ironically, "The Wire" depicts Pearson's past. The very life she sheds as a tough gangster in the streets of Baltimore is much like the villain she now portrays. Felicia "Snoop" Pearson continues to live a thug life, but today, only in character.

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