The library of growing-up-gay horrors gets another raw entry with this memoir of a boy in Britain's Romany community forced to train in bare knuckle fighting from the age of four. His father was England's brawling champion and expected the same of his son, matching him with older boys who invariably won. After every defeat, his father ranted "about how ashamed of me he was, how I was a pathetic coward and he didn't know how he'd ever make a man of me." The training and fighting were daily and weekly rituals, as gypsy children don't attend school. According to the author, the boys were chain smoking by the time they were eight and alcoholic soon after. His uncle sexually abused him since he was seven. When his father found out Mikey was gay he tried to kill him, then put out a contract to finish the job. He fled in his teens. Now in his 30s, he says he misses the gypsy life, loves his family, and is hurt when people call his father a "monster." He recently told the Mirror, "I had an amazing childhood. I never ever sat there thinking: ‘Why is my life so terrible, why does my father hate me?’"
A surprise #1 bestseller in the UK, Gypsy Boy: My Life in the Secret World of the Romany Gypsies [Kindle] has yet to catch on here. The sequel, Gypsy Boy on the Run, tells the happier story of his post-gypsy life, including finally learning to read and write. (You should approach the books understanding he came late to literacy.) Three years ago Mikey entered a civil partnership with an Aussie called Dillon. Although the Walshes didn't attend the ceremony, Mikey's mother made a three-tiered cake topped by a white-chocolate skull.
Loads of praise after the jump.
"In this violent yet often comic memoir, Walsh writes of life as an English Gypsy.... Gypsy Boy feels, in all its cocky, awkward affection and anguish, like the real deal."--The Boston Globe
"A poignant memoir that bears comparison to the bestselling Running With Scissors—but better written and far darker."--Kirkus Reviews
“The earthy, violent, funny memoir of a gypsy boy in England. It’s absolutely riveting, un-put-downable.”--Anne Lamott, The Miami Herald
"This book is the extraordinary story of how a young man found his way in the secretive and illusive world of Romany Gypsies. ... Written with insight and a powerful and at times shocking narrative, this is an incredible book about a young man’s courage and his pride in his family and culture."--Tucson Citizen
"Absolutely can’t be missed. If you’re up for a funny, brutal, sharp memoir, this is the book you want."--Long Island Pulse Magazine
"His story is shocking, eye-opening, but finally triumphant. And remarkable."--Hudson Valley News
"Gypsy Boy tells the poignant story of a boy living in an unusual and secretive environment of shoplifting, boxing, and virtual illiteracy, a boy who desperately wants to please his abusive father but all the while grapples with his own clandestine issues. This extraordinary memoir about resilience and the human spirit is a rare glimpse into a world few of us can imagine."--The Advocate
"Absolutely can’t be missed. If you’re up for a funny, brutal, sharp memoir, this is the book you want."--The Washington Blade
"A sobering and compelling portrait of Gypsy life that is written by an insider."--The National
"Harrowing ... exposes disturbing connections between culture and abuse."--The Washington Post
“This stunning childhood memoir takes readers into the insular culture of Romany Gypsies. … It is astounding that Walsh survived such brutality, without emotional support or formal education, to pen this unflinching but oddly generous memoir, demonstrating a respectful attitude toward Romany culture and affection toward his family.”--Library Journal
"This is a wonderfully readable tale of love, abuse, and eventual escape--all lived in the heart of an English Gypsy family. The father is one of the most frightening figures I've encountered in years."--Edmund White, author of A Boy’s Own Story
"Reading Gypsy Boy, I felt invited into a secret society. I've always found Gypsies mysterious and even slightly dangerous, and Mikey Walsh does an excellent job describing the cloistered lifestyle and fascinating traditions of the Romany people. Moreover, Mikey's personal story of being a misfit among misfits is both compelling and universal. I cheered for him every step of the way."--Julia Scheeres, author of Jesus Land
“A revelation. Moving, terrifying, funny and brilliant. I shall never forget it—an amazing achievement.”--Stephen Fry
“Touching, insightful, funny, and incredibly shocking.”--Heat magazine (UK)
“Best memoir since Running with Scissors.”--Attitude
"A gripping and heartfelt page-turner."--Booklist (starred review)
"From family violence to the horrors of cockfighting, from stealing bikes from the local sports center to squeezing juice out of slugs as a remedy for warts, Mikey makes the gaudy world of Romany Gypsies in the U.K. erupt into life, interspersing these scenes with moments of tenderness and goofy comedy."--Shelf Awareness