Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. The Ugly Cry is not only intimate and sharp, but also undeniably funny. How do you think humor played a part in Danielle’s memoir? How, if at all, do you think humor plays a part in dealing with traumatic experiences?
2. Danielle describes a nontraditional upbringing in which she was raised predominantly by her grandparents. How did her stories challenge or shift assumptions you might have about a “normal” childhood? How did they change, if at all, your definition of “family”?
3. Looking back, do you remember any pivotal people in your life, outside of your parents, who impacted your childhood? Share some stories about who else made a difference in your life—and helped make you who you are today.
4. Danielle’s grandmother was anything but indulging; tough and no-nonsense, she made no effort to sugarcoat life. What do you think are the pros and cons of this parenting approach?
5. Danielle describes the absolute freedom and absolute terror of growing up in the 1980s: no rules, no parents, and no supervision. Compare this with your own childhood—did you grow up in a similarly liberated childhood, or was yours closely supervised? How did this affect your own maturation? What level of freedom do you feel parents should allow their children?
6. Consider the difficulties Danielle’s mother had in raising her children as a single mother—the sacrifices she herself made and the barriers she faced. How do these experiences affect your definition of what it means to be a good parent? How do they challenge the assumption that anyone can succeed if only they work hard enough?
7. Through the eyes of her childhood self, Danielle describes an extremely abusive relationship between her mother and Luke, a man who acted cruelly toward her and her siblings and squandered her mother’s hard-earned money. She also relates how difficult it was for her grandparents to extricate her and her siblings from that fraught dynamic. What role do you think friends and family should play in extracting their loved ones from an abusive relationship? Do you think there is a limit to the lengths friends and family can go to?
8. In describing the whiplash of her childhood, Danielle writes that she “realized it was up to [her] to figure out how to survive.” What do you think it means to “survive”? If you could offer your younger self tips on surviving all that life throws at you, what advice would you give?
9. Looking back, Danielle can see the many ways in which her grandmother was trying to make her tough. Why do you think her grandmother felt this was so important? Do you think race, gender, or class play a role in how caregivers bring up their dependents? How so?
10. Danielle writes about how exciting it felt to make her first Black friend, sharing how wonderful it was to be immediately understood, as well as how alienated and different she felt as a Black girl in a predominantly white neighborhood. Think about the people who stood out or were isolated in your childhood. When you look back, how do you imagine they navigated the world? And how do their memories differ from yours, do you think?
11. As a teenager, Danielle develops a newfound understanding of and relationship to her body, evident in stories like the one in which she shaved her head and wanted to show off her new look around town. Especially as a woman, her grandmother warns, your body is ripe for the taking, at the risk of being used and abused. How does Danielle’s matter-of-fact response to her grandmother’s concerns speak to ideas of feminism today?
12. The Ugly Cry is full of women exhibiting different definitions of strength in the face of the harsh realities of life, from Danielle’s mother’s righteous thrashing of a car, to her grandmother’s pitiless advice, and everything in between. Who are the women in your life who showed you strength, perhaps in unexpected places? What does strength mean to you?