When I started reading Darling Days by iO Tillett Wright, my reading mojo was bruised from two, basically back-to-back DNFs.
I read 10 pages of Darling Days and knew that that wasn’t going to happen here.
Darling Days is iO Tillett Wright’s memoir of growing up poor with an incredibly challenging mother as well as a queer gender identity.
This memoir is unlike any I’ve ever read before. It reminds me of The Glass Castle but I don’t want to compare the two because they are so unique. Darling Days is so unflinchingly honest, Tillett Wright’s life is laid bare but it’s written with so much love.
Tillett Wright’s mother is a Viking warrior queen, a dancer, an artist, a beautiful soul in a cruel, hard world. She loves her daughter fiercely, cocoons them together away from the darkness of the rest of the world the best she can. But before iO is born, her mother suffered the violent loss of a lover. She never quite gets over it, and the medications that she takes to help her cope, to help her to feel closer to that lost love, end up causing their own kind of damage.
iO spends her childhood in awe of her mother, a happy sidekick in the kinds of adventures you can only have when you are very poor – like walking all your stuff to a new apartment after you’ve been fighting eviction.
On top of living with and loving a very complicated mother, iO has her own gender identity to come to terms with. When she is told she can’t play soccer with some kids in the park because she is a girl, she decides that she would rather be a boy and asks her parents to call her Ricky. To her parents’ credit, they both went along with it and allowed iO to live her identity for years. When she’s a teenager, she decides that actually she would like to be a girl again, and the transition is made seamlessly once more.
iO’s story is complex. When life with her mother becomes too much, she tries living in Germany with her father and then a boarding school in rural England. But iO is also a product of her upbringing and always feels kind of other. As a teenager, she feels incredible rage and starts experimenting: with her sexuality, with alcohol and drugs.
The one thing that I really felt the entire time I was reading this incredible memoir was love. The book opens with iO’s letter to her mother, someone who continues to be a tangled presence in her life, basically saying that this is their story but that it’s written without judgement and that she has always loved her and always will and that she wouldn’t be the person she is today without her mother.
I mean, if that doesn’t make you want to cry your eyes out right there, I don’t know what will.
The reason that the love stands out for me will be clear if you end up reading this intense, honest, captivating memoir. Few people live this kind of life, survive this childhood, and come out on the other side with love and compassion for their parents. Even contentment is difficult to achieve and iO has come out with joy, enthusiasm and a delight in what this world has to offer.
iO Tillett Wright is clearly a pretty incredible person and I felt privileged to get to read her story. If you get the chance, I hope you do too.