Pres­sure Makes Di­a­monds: Be­com­ing the Woman I Pre­tended to Be

This is an in­spi­ra­tional mem­oir about a de­ter­mined woman who faked it till she made it—and made it big.

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Nonfiction - KAAVONIA HIN­TON

Va­lerie Graves Akashic Books Soft­cover $15.95 (288pp) 978-1-61775-493-7

Pres­sure Makes Di­a­monds is Va­lerie Graves’s mem­oir, a story about an ac­com­plished woman who is the epit­ome of grit.

Graves al­ways knew that she would leave her mod­est Michi­gan sur­round­ings and achieve suc­cess; un­til she did, though, she would act as if she were al­ready there. She was sur­prised to be­come a teenage mother, but still de­ter­mined to make a bet­ter life for her­self, so she worked, went to col­lege, and em­barked on a ca­reer in ad­ver­tis­ing. She even­tu­ally worked as a copy edi­tor, a chief cre­ative of­fi­cer at an ad agency, and as a vice pres­i­dent at Mo­town.

Pres­sure Makes Di­a­monds is made up of four parts with in­ter­est­ing chap­ter ti­tles like “Mom Drops the Nu­clear Fam­ily Bomb” and “Big Pimpin’ in the Big Ap­ple.” It cov­ers Va­lerie’s child­hood through the present but some­times feels over­loaded with anec­dotes that slow its pace.

Vivid de­tails and thought­ful re­flec­tive state­ments draw out Graves’s unique ex­pe­ri­ences. She re­lates en­coun­ters with celebri­ties and im­por­tant brands, though these are some­what buried near the end of her book, com­ing af­ter tan­gen­tial sto­ries about mov­ing in with dif­fer­ent friends, work­ing at a hos­pi­tal, and ma­neu­ver­ing var­i­ous re­la­tion­ships, both ro­man­tic and fa­mil­ial.

Though the men­tion of the civil rights, women’s, and Black Power move­ments are glossed over, Graves’s own per­spec­tives of black cul­ture—based on in­ter­nal­ized racism and col­orism on one hand, and pride and love on the other— are com­pelling. She draws on her ex­pe­ri­ences and evolv­ing points of view re­lated to black cul­ture when she cre­ates ads aimed at black con­sumers. There is a ten­sion here that is not fully ex­plored but that re­mains a sub­tle theme through­out. Whether re­call­ing the guilt she felt as a work­ing, ab­sen­tee par­ent, or how she came to adopt new-age think­ing, the au­thor’s sto­ry­telling skills and use of hu­mor, im­agery, and fig­u­ra­tive lan­guage is note­wor­thy.

At an early age, Va­lerie de­cided she would fake it un­til she made it. Now a suc­cess by most stan­dards, she no longer has to pre­tend.

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