Book Review: How the Boogeyman Became a Poet

Title: How the Boogeyman Became a Poet

Author: Tony Keith Jr.  

Genres:  Memoir

Pages: 341

Publisher: Katherine Tegan Books

Review Copy: ARC by publisher

Availability: Available now

Summary: Poet, writer, and hip-hop educator Tony Keith Jr. makes his debut with a powerful YA memoir in verse, tracing his journey from being a closeted gay Black teen battling poverty, racism, and homophobia to becoming an openly gay first-generation college student who finds freedom in poetry. Perfect for fans of Elizabeth Acevedo, George M. Johnson, and Jacqueline Woodson. Tony dreams about life after high school, where his poetic voice can find freedom on the stage and page. But the Boogeyman has been following Tony since he was six years old. First, the Boogeyman was after his Blackness, but Tony has learned It knows more than Tony wants to be the first in his family to attend college, but there’s no path to follow. He also has feelings for boys, desires that don’t align with the script he thinks is set for him and his girlfriend, Blu. Despite a supportive network of family and friends, Tony doesn’t breathe a word to anyone about his feelings. As he grapples with his sexuality and moves from high school to college, he struggles with loneliness while finding solace in gay chat rooms and writing poetry. But how do you find your poetic voice when you are hiding the most important parts of yourself? And how do you escape the Boogeyman when it’s lurking inside you?

Review: I will admit that I’m a huge fiction girly and very rarely read memoirs. However, the title and the book cover caught my eye at NCTE and I took a look. I love books in verse and when I saw this was a memoir in verse by a spoken word poet I was even more interested. I flipped through the pages, read a few of the poems and I was all in. I grabbed a copy and looked forward to reading this memoir when I had some time. I was not disappointed. 

“How the Boogeyman Became a Poet” reflects on Tony Keith’s senior year of high school and his first year of college as he struggles to figure out who he is. It is during this time that Tony is struggling with what he would like for his future and struggling with his sexuality. He opens his memoir with giving a bit of background about his childhood before diving deep into the numerous insecurities young teens may have as they face their last year of high school where the constant talk is about “which college are you going to go to”. Teenage Tony is struggling with the last few months of school as he doesn’t think he has the grades to go to college but knows everyone around him expects him to. He also feels that he is continuing to live his life as a lie as he has a girlfriend, whom his parents know and love, while going to church, and maintaining an image of a “cool, straight Black teen.” It’s this performance he puts on that he calls the Boogeyman because the Boogeyman shows up to remind Tony that he is living a lie. Tony does express himself though his poetry and one highlight from the book is Tony sharing the poems that he wrote during this time period. There is a distinct difference in the style and tone of these younger poems, from the rest of the memoir, that reminds the reader that Tony will eventually find his way. As Tony attends college and is exposed to a wider world, friendships change, he breaks up with his girlfriend, and does begin to be true to himself. He also begins to find his voice in his poetry as he begins to accept who he is. 

Overall I enjoyed “How the Boogeyman Became a Poet” as Tony’s voice as a confused teen growing into a confident young man moved me. There were so many passages that were truly moving and drew me into Tony’s story. Tony’s poems are lyrical with a flow that moves with a smooth beat. He weaves imagery into pictures the eyes can see and moments the heart can feel. I hope that this book becomes an audio book and that Tony is the narrator as his memoir was an enjoyable read, that I can only imagine how it would sound. 

Here is a taste of Tony Keith’s poetry.