Walk To Beautiful: The Power Of Love And A Homeless Kid Who Found The Way, by Jimmy Wayne with Ken Abraham
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for an honest review.]
It is clear from the opening lines that the memoir of country singer-songwriter Jimmy Wayne is an immensely dark one: “I sat sullen and shirtless toward the end of the day, alone in my room at the country home where Mama and her fourth or fifth husband had dumped me. My biological dad had left when I was a toddler, and Mama had already abandoned me several times as well. I’d lost count by now how many men she’d had in my fourteen years. A year earlier, Mama had married off my then-fourteen-year-old sister, Patricia, to an older, abusive man (xvii).” What follows is a look over the first thirty-five years of the author’s life, a tale full of dramatic reversals, and the repercussions of a deeply dysfunctional family background that still seems to make it difficult for the author, despite his success as a country singer, to develop intimate bonds with others. It is noteworthy, I suppose, that the author remains unmarried despite being well-known, a talented singer, and someone who is commonly considered to be among the more handsome people within country music, if not in general. Yet, as this honest and soul-searching memoir makes plain, the author has had to overcome a horrific childhood that is painful to read about.
In terms of its contents and structure, the book is a generally chronological (after its first chapters) book that can be divided into four sections. The book begins with a chilling scene of a teenager in crisis, cutting himself and thinking about suicide and engaging in self-harm. The next two chapters show Jimmy Wayne at the peak of his career, singing in Madison Square Garden, opening for Brad Paisley. After this, the book begins at the author’s early childhood, with a mother who clearly thinks finding men is more important than keeping a job or bonding with her children. The book’s accounts of bullying and child endangerment are terrifying to read, as is the author’s description of being a runaway well on his way to becoming a statistic and a part of the criminal justice system. At this point, the providential care of an elderly couple brings structure to Jimmy’s life during his teenage years, and he ends up finishing high school and attending college and studying criminal justice, and starts his early music career. From here, the book focuses on the upward trajectory of Wayne’s life, including the pitfalls of early stardom, becoming a Nashville singer-songwriter after spending some time working for North Carolina’s correctional system, and life on tour and making music, while also seeking to become more grounded in his faith. The fourth section of the book focuses on Wayne’s efforts to bring attention to foster children who life out of foster care at 18 and quickly are caught up in crime and exploitation because they are not able to handle themselves easily in his walk halfway across the country. The book therefore combines a deeply moving personal history, a narrative of uneven but consistent growth, along with a clear political message to seek care and concern for the homeless, especially homeless young people like Wayne was during his own immensely difficult childhood.
All in all, at nearly 400 pages of material, this is a deeply satisfying, if painfully reflective, memoir. Wayne shows himself to be a person committed to growth and improvement, and someone whose characteristic sense of distance from others, a habit drilled deeply in his childhood, has not prevented him from being motivated to helping and encouraging those around him. Wayne speaks openly about the difficulties of being part of the music machine, whether it is in the injustice of being asked to sign away royalties and songwriting rights, the betrayal of those you thought were friends when an album doesn’t sell enough units, and the ups and downs of a career that is dependent on contracts and performance, where what one has done lately is of the utmost importance . This is a memoir that provides a human face to a person I was not very familiar with, and reminds us to show compassion to those who are down and out in our society. As painful as it is to recognize sometimes, many of us are only a short step away from the sort of difficulties faced by Jimmy Wayne and many others like him, and who need only for someone to meet them halfway, the subject of Jimmy Wayne’s lengthy walk from Nashville to Phoenix, a dramatic tale in itself. This is a memoir that richly rewards the reader with a look beneath the celebrity skin to the deeper life within, and to the mysterious workings of divine providence.
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