Diary of a Misfit: A Memoir and a Mystery (Hardcover)
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NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF 2022 by The Washington Post, Boston Globe, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, New York Public Library, Minneapolis Star Tribune
Part memoir, part sweeping journalistic saga: As Casey Parks follows the mystery of a stranger's past, she is forced to reckon with her own sexuality, her fraught Southern identity, her tortured yet loving relationship with her mother, and the complicated role of faith in her life.
"Most moving is Parks’s depiction of a queer lineage, her assertion of an ancestry of outcasts, a tapestry of fellow misfits into which the marginalized will always, for better or worse, fit." —The New York Times Book Review
When Casey Parks came out as a lesbian in college back in 2002, she assumed her life in the South was over. Her mother shunned her, and her pastor asked God to kill her. But then Parks's grandmother, a stern conservative who grew up picking cotton, pulled her aside and revealed a startling secret. "I grew up across the street from a woman who lived as a man," and then implored Casey to find out what happened to him. Diary of a Misfit is the story of Parks's life-changing journey to unravel the mystery of Roy Hudgins, the small-town country singer from grandmother’s youth, all the while confronting ghosts of her own.
For ten years, Parks traveled back to rural Louisiana and knocked on strangers’ doors, dug through nursing home records, and doggedly searched for Roy’s own diaries, trying to uncover what Roy was like as a person—what he felt; what he thought; and how he grappled with his sense of otherness. With an enormous heart and an unstinting sense of vulnerability, Parks writes about finding oneself through someone else’s story, and about forging connections across the gulfs that divide us.
About the Author
CASEY PARKS is a Washington Post reporter who covers gender and family issues. She was previously a staff reporter at the Jackson (Miss.) Free Press and spent a decade at The Oregonian, where she wrote about race and LGBTQ+ issues and was a finalist for the Livingston Award. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, The Oxford American, ESPN, USA Today, and The Nation. A former Spencer Fellow at Columbia University, Parks was most recently awarded the 2021 J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award for her work on Diary of a Misfit. Parks lives in Portland.
"Diary of a Misfit is at once dewy-eyed and diligent, capricious and capacious, empathetic and exacting. It’s as richly textured as a pot of gumbo. As a work of autobiography, it’s maximalist; subtitled A Memoir and a Mystery, it certainly is both of those things, but it’s also an assiduous family history, a decades-spanning community chronicle à la Sarah Broom’s The Yellow House, a coming-out narrative, a dive into Christian denominations, a wrestling with Southern heritage... Most moving is Parks’s depiction of a queer lineage, her assertion of an ancestry of outcasts, a tapestry of fellow misfits into which the marginalized will always, for better or worse, fit." —Michelle Hart, New York Times Book Review (cover review)
"Parks...[is] a vivid storyteller...Readers familiar with her work in the New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine know her as a thoughtful, precise journalist who communicates her characters’ humanity and the stakes of a story through evocative details....Parks’s writing shines in the story that she can meticulously report: her own...Parks is an exceptional chronicler of her family and experience. She leans into the beats of stories she’s expertly honed over the years...She manages the rare feat of writing about her family with both an awareness of its flaws and a respect for privacy. She chooses revealing anecdotes carefully, alluding to family challenges that aren’t hers to share. A self-described listener, she chronicles her pain at a remove...Some scenes feel straight out of Mary Karr, but without the raw rancor...a compelling triumph" --Charley Locke, The Washington Post
"[A] stunning work of memoir and reportage.... Delving deep into ideas of sexuality, identity, otherness, and love, Diary of a Misfit is a must-read." —Sarah Neilson, Them
"A beautifully written and deeply reported epic about what it means to be Southern, what it means to be queer, what it means to belong to a family. Casey Parks is a tender, brilliant storyteller. I was haunted and moved by this account of the different Americas she inhabits." —Claire Dederer, author of Love and Trouble
“Parks' engrossing book is an excavation—emotional, familial, spiritual, and perhaps above all else, regional. The Louisiana she can't leave behind—and one mysterious inhabitant in particular—haunt her early adulthood as she grapples with what it means to be a daughter, a writer, an outlier, and, in her own way, a believer.” —Ariel Levy, author of The Rules Do Not Apply
"...the beauty of Diary of a Misfit is that it sits in that space, allowing Parks to unfold her family's history, her understanding of herself, and her obsession with Roy slowly and methodically...
In the process, she also beautifully portrays her interview subjects in the South and what she both loves and finds painful about home. This blend of reportage, research, and memoir has been blooming recently, with books like The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom and My Autobiography of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland exemplifying the interconnectedness of the personal, political, historical, and academic realms. Parks' book is a wonderful addition to the genre." —Ilana Masad, NPR
"Roy Hudgins, [is] the intriguing subject of journalist Casey Parks’s riveting first book...what gives Diary of a Misfit its unique and lasting impact is the task undertaken and accomplished by Parks’s memoirist self: to understand and rid herself of self-loathing.... Her moving, empowering, searching tale is one of the modern American South, of mother-daughter breaking and bonding, of the pernicious effects of homophobia and bullying and hate.... Parks has written a memoir that will serve as a beacon for many others still yearning to no longer feel like misfits." —Meredith Maran, Oprah Daily
“You can’t look away from the riveting opening sentence of Casey Parks’ spellbinding Diary of a Misfit... It draws you quickly in to her atmospheric tale of self discovery after coming out as a lesbian to her mother in her small Louisiana town... Like Harper Lee, Parks evokes the simmering suspicions of a small Southern town. Like Eudora Welty, she tells a poignant story of people trying to fit into a way of life that once suited them but no longer wears well. And like Truman Capote, she packs her memoir with eccentric characters... Parks’ dazzling narrative gift imbues Diary of a Misfit with all the makings of a great Southern story that readers won’t be able to get out of their minds." —Henry L. Carrigan Jr, BookPage (starred review)
"Parks' work of self-investigation is a fascinating, engrossing tale about identity and belonging." —Booklist (starred review)
"A tantalizing blend of personal history and reportage.... A brilliantly rendered and complex portrait of Southern life alongside a tender exploration of queer belonging. Parks’s writing is a marvel to witness." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Journalism becomes literature in this memorable meditation on identity, belonging, and the urge to find understanding." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Reading Casey Parks’ compelling Diary of a Misfit is like assembling a double-sided jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes maddening, sometimes exhilarating, ultimately rewarding. It is a master class in how to write an atypical, exemplary memoir. Parks reconstructs haunting and traumatic memories at the same time that she focuses on objective investigative journalism, relying on the resources of interviews, photographs, library microfilm, and an elusive diary. The fulfilling discovery is an absorbing geography of the heart—as much about places (Louisiana, Mississippi, Portland, New York City) as it is about people...Her grandmother’s undying curiosity about the mystery of what happened to Roy provokes what becomes this illuminating semblance of an autobiography wrapped in an elusive documentary linked to someone else’s unknown history... Diary of a Misfit: A Memoir often reads like a remarkable novel with a long list of memorable characters, a captivating story line, and a definitive affirmation of authentic lives. If, as she says, people write because they “want to be understood and remembered” Parks has admirably achieved that lofty goal.” —Robert Allen Papinchak, The Oregonian
“In Diary of a Misfit, Parks’s commitment to storytelling is paramount. The book is an immersive, expansive look at the world of small-town life and those who are forever marked by these spaces. Entwined in this nuanced narrative lies a thread regarding the challenge of empathy.... The tension that keeps Parks suspended between geographic regions speaks to a universal experience: the ache for a sense of belonging fed by a common love for home. That attachment is what redeems the misfits and brings them into the fold. This is a loving and unflinching portrait of a search for community, imperfect but constant. . . Diary of a Misfit is a call to linger at the table and invite others to join us.” —Lauren LeBlanc, The Boston Globe
“Although Parks’s writing is elegant and descriptive, what is most compelling about Diary of a Misfit is how brilliantly organized it is. All at once, we get a biography, a memoir, a family history, and the active history of a place that most people are unfamiliar with. The book acts as a kind of living archive of the lives of people who history tends to forget...In the same vein as books like Sarah Broom’s The Yellow House, Diary of a Misfit acts as a testament to the lives of people who are often written out of history.” —Stef Rubino, Autostraddle
“Parks’ family members and the people of Delhi have backstories more captivating than some fictional characters...The product is a moving exploration of the role people we’ve never met can play in our lives and about coming to appreciate, as Parks’ mother puts it in the book, the ‘funky stank of home.’” —Kaylee Poche, Gambit
"The suspense continues until there are only a few pages left in this angsty, engrossing memoir" --Terri Schlichenmeyer, Gay & Lesbian Review
"[a] compelling debut...Diary of a Misfit provides an insightful entry in a tradition of memoirs by Southerners reckoning with a sense of dislocation....Parks pours all her journalistic skill into Diary of a Misfit, shoring up legend with research and context while acknowledging the limited facts available after the passing of decades. But what makes Diary so moving is Parks’ artful handling of her own vulnerability within these events. The result is an absorbing, compassionately rendered page-turner that lingers in the mind." --Emily Choate, Chapter 16