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Mistakes to Run With A devastatingly frank memoir that tears open the past to examine how circumstances—and the choices we make—dictate the people we become Mistakes to Run With chronicles the turbulent life of Yasuko Thanh from early childhood in the closest thing Victoria BC has to a slum to teen years as a sex worker and finally to her emergence as an award winning author As a child Thanh embraced evangelical religion only to rebel against it and her eually rigid parents cutting herself smoking and shoplifting At fifteen the honour roll runaway develops a taste for drugs and alcohol After a stint in jail at sixteen feeling utterly abandoned by her family school and society Thanh meets the man who would become her pimp and falls in loveThe next chapter of her life takes Thanh to the streets of Vancouver where she endures beatings arrests crack cocaine and an unwanted pregnancy The act of writing ultimately becomes a solace from her suffering Leaving the sex trade but refusing to settle on any one thing Thanh forges a new life for herself from dealing drugs in four languages to motherhood and a complicated marriage and emerges as a successful writerBut even as publication and awards bolster her she remains haunted by her past

10 thoughts on “Mistakes to Run With

  1. Krista Krista says:

    At the age of seventeen I was convinced of the righteousness of my behaviour which showed what a person could do when not intimidated I ate lobster I drove a Camaro I wasn't a victim We smiled from the curb at the men who drove around the block waved beckoned with our index fingers manufacturing a sweetness for even the circle jerks who ogled our flesh through their car windows but never stopped to take us out This was part of the job smiling while covering up our fear Mistakes to Run With is not just a gritty tell all memoir about a former teenage sex worker's travels through the eighteen levels of Buddhist Hell for which the chapters are named but since Yasuko Thanh is a celebrated author of fiction she brings a novelist's sensibility to shaping her story with insight and wisdom I think back now to when I read her prize winning Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains and I feel rather small for having come on here to report whether or not I “liked” it; it's so very easy to forget that these authors we casually evaluate are real people who sweat and labour over their efforts Nonetheless I'll follow through with the expected form and report that this was an incredible read – for its art as much as for its narrative Many children grow up unloved but they don't go to the extremes I did Maybe this is a story about how borderline personality disorder – a diagnosis I received two years ago – develops in a child Or maybe it's about a good girl who makes bad choices Or maybe it's about the power we have to rationalize our worst behaviours I'm still trying to understand whether it was something as inborn as the colour of my eyes that made me trade a life at home for the streets Or an obsessive need for approval generated by an inability to impress my parents Whatever it was I ran away from home at the age of fifteen armed with misguided convictions that allowed me to justify my recklessness impulsivity and promiscuity to myself I was motivated to stay on the streets as long as I did by the firm belief that love involved self sacrifice that it constituted a form of noble suffering But no one story can paint the whole picture Love had to be earned and you had to pay dearly to get it That's what my life so far had taught me Born to a Vietnamese father and a German mother Thanh was raised in a low income neighbourhood of Victoria BC When her brother came along five years later Thanh lost not only her room to him she was now relegated to a fold out chair in the living room but also lost whatever attention and affection she might have had before Despite being a top student and winner of academic competitions Thanh received no praise from parents who took her accomplishments as merely expected and when she eventually ran away at fifteen her parents informed Social Services that they didn't want her back in the home in case she negatively impacted her brother On her own Thanh eventually made her way to Vancouver and was delighted to join a stable of prostitutes under the care of a suave pimp named Avery and she spend the next several years trying to prove her worth to him by degrading and debasing herself all while believing that she was in control of everything and no kind of victim She turned her nose up at the “crack hos” around her while thinking of herself as merely a sex worker who enjoyed smoking crack when she eventually had children Thanh wanted men to think that she was something than just another one of the sad stay at home Moms she hung out with and when she was later diagnosed with borderline personality disorder Thanh resisted being put on antidepressants because she had always thought of herself as a step above those “on meds” It was this kind of awareness of Thanh's self protection measures – the low self esteem urging her to feel even slightly superior to those around her – that crafts her disturbing story into one it doesn't feel voyeuristic to witness On my office wall was what I called my memory box Wooden with a glass front it held things from my childhood Among them was a bookmark I once drew of Alice in Wonderland where she cried so hard that everyone floated away on her tears Carried off by her sadness washed away by her pain My writing would do this Wash away my pain Vindication I write to be free The words will free me Then it would all have been worth it All? What all? The streets Avery? Yes I'd show them A child's threat “Then they'll be sorry” For years in my secret heart I'd been waiting for discovery It felt like reaching in the dark – for an outstretched hand that would touch me know meAnd through it all Thanh wrote as though it would save her life In the later part of the book – as Thanh describes what she was going through domestically and psychologically as she studied creative writing and began to experience professional success – it was astonishing to learn how her ghosts and demons both urged her on and held her back Not everyone needs to write a memoir and not everyone who does can do it well but Thanh succeeds here on every level and I wish her much success going forward

  2. chantel nouseforaname chantel nouseforaname says:

    I hate to use the word harrowing and I feel like it could fit with Yasuko's account of her life but I feel like it's not the right word The definition of harrowing is acutely distressing and Mistakes to Run with is completely distressing; but at the same time it's kind of like there's this sense that she chose all of this Which for the reader makes it feel like umm okay so what I see your story annnnd? What's the purpose here Ms Thanh?Yasuko Thanh is no doubt a very smart and capable woman but no one put her out there in these streets She put herself out in these streets chasing something down which is a common situation among young girls and women after all everybody's looking for something Through my lens reading her stories it seems like only white folks get to capitalize on shit like this and books of this nature It's distressing really to watch someone chasing something down that they're not sure of What's the purpose of this book to the reader? Reading about the author going to work each day doing a job that she chose even if your work is sex work with the stresses of your work there's stress at every job knowing that you know it's dangerous and that you're not being forced to do it Technically you could leave anytime you want and have the supports of a family who would like you to do better You just don't want that It's distressing to watch someone chase down mistakes and a lifelifestyle that they're not even sure they want It's distressing watching someone participate in a style of life that they themselves have no purpose for or are even actually really into It's secondary stress It's crazy because I read this book twice I read it two weeks ago and had no fucking idea what I had read after I read it At the end of the first read I was like WHAT? What was the purpose of her doing any of this? Doing crazy shit for crazy shit's sake? I was also saying to myself No girl maybe you misread some this Of course there are other underlying issues at play like her OCD and seemingly addictive personality etc but it's not a book about that which is also weird Those situations just seemed like additional circumstances of the stories she's telling I didn't understand the point at first reading I'd be lying if I said that I fully comprehend what was happening here at second reading outside of the fact that at around 45 years of age she finally understood the need for independence which was given only a blip of acknowledgment in the last chapter You know it's interesting because her memoir brought me back to some of the behavioural issues existing in some of the girls I went to high school with Maybe I'm being judgmental but it really just played out like okay here's this crazy story for no reason It felt like privilege at play I think that it goes without saying that many other women and people of colour and teenagers of colour don't have the luxury of running away and leaving their families behind to pursue their own nonsensical interests Many women forced to participate in the sex trade don't have the luxury of a choice and we can blame the Canadian government for that because they should really just legalize and regulate sex work so bitches can have security Like the fuck It's timeAll things considered this memoir reeked of privilege Too many people are just too busy fighting to get half of what people like Yasuko get for free; freedom the ability to travel around to various locations the freedom to not have a work history and somehow inherit a bread and breakfast from dead rich relatives This may be fucked up to say; but I believe it to be the truth and Yasuko even acknowledges this sentiment in the first chapter of the book where she talks about her blacknative co worker working the track who would only make a FRACTION of what Yasuko would make being out there for like an hour My viewpoint informs my reading and as a black female reader I couldn't ignore the fact that this book wasn't sharing anything with me it was just telling me madness Interesting slightly entertaining madness but madness nonetheless She ain't talk about how she gave back to her communities; she ain't talk about how she struggled to maintain sobriety or that that was even really a thought to her Not saying that these missing pieces make the book worthless it's just that for consumption and reading purposes it makes the book limited and makes its possibility for growth or future reference stuntedAfter reading this book twice it's harrowing the circumstances that she described around her sex work and drug use but there's no higher point It's all just a story for story's sake and honestly you can take it or leave it I could see it as a movie tho

  3. Stephanie Chow Stephanie Chow says:

    I don't often review books but I have to say that I thoroughly disliked this memoirThe author's journey from an academic and athletic wunderkind to a teenage crack ho her words not mine within a couple of years and coming out on the other end as an accomplished author loving mother and resilient woman was hardly the harrowing tale it's being marketed as It didn't come across as brave or tragic or devastating or inspirational To me it read as self righteous privileged and over the top rebellious I hate that she justified her own self destruction and adolescent defiance under the guise of a personal pursuit of freedom and independence or that she made the choices she made and became a prostitute at 15 because from her point of view love is earned and not freely given Regardless of the reasons for those choices they were still her choices She wasn't forced into the situation and always had the option to go home which she did periodically To say that she endured beatings arrests crack cocaine and an unwanted pregnancy and that she suffered greatly is a stretch as SHE CHOSE THAT LIFE She also had an out the entire time unlike so many sex workers who have no choice at all or the luxury of an exit route If I'm reading a survival story of this nature I'd rather applaud a woman that fought her way up and out of circumstances beyond her control not give praise to a girl who thought she was unworthy of love because her dad wouldn't pay for her gymnastics lessons Is it just me or does Suko consider herself better than her sex worker colleagues? Her descriptions of the other woman in the sex trade came across as condescending in my opinion The other working girls were drug addicts alcoholics broken used up etc while Suko was spending her free time reading Tony Morrison and writing four hours a day This is a tad bit pretentious and only adds to my outrage that Suko was pursuing the working girl life because she simply wanted to prove a point Look at how reckless I can be without loosing my mind in the process I don't need anybody Good for you I guess? You sure showed them? I was also mildly annoyed with her descriptions of her childhood as an overachieving academically accomplished student who also did drugs in the bathroom and was put on academic probation for never attending class It seems highly unlikely that she could personify both student types at once although I'm basing that assumption purely on my own experiences with the different types of girls I went to school with in Canada So either the author is completely unreliable or her star pupil status was fabricated to make her fall into delinuency significant Fine But please stop blaming your parents for your choices because they didn't praise you enough for your accomplishments I'm a mixed raced woman too my father is Chinese and my mother was caucasian and just like Suko and so many other children with Asian parents my accomplishments were expected and not overly praised It's not a big deal You'll survive I will say that the author's inherent loneliness and search for approvalacceptance were adamant throughout her story particularly when she recaps her emotionally abusive relationships with men Thanh shows that she has gained a great deal of insight and wisdom in the aftermath of those experiences and there are a few awful situations depicted in this book where the reader can feel sympathetic Her borderline personality disorder also plays a large role in this story but we don't actually learn how she's come to terms with this diagnosis or how much of that disorder affected her most uestionable decisions like entering the sex trade at 15 or smoking crack with her her ex loverpimp because it made her feel alive I won't lie I was drawn to this book because reading a true account of teenage prostitution and a turbulent life on the streets of Vancouver sounded like an interesting read and conversation piece for my book club Will reading this book give you a gritty retelling of life on the streets? Yes But will it also come a across like a petulant unreliable narrator telling a shocking story because why not? You bet Read at your own discretion

  4. Emmkay Emmkay says:

    Yasuko Thanh spent years writing with a passion before returning to school as a mature student to study creative writing and bursting onto the Canadian literary scene with well reviewed short stories and a novel Articles referred to her having lived on the streets and worked as a busker However her background was actually less breezily eclectic as seen in her memoir which tells of childhood pain turning to adolescent alienation shoplifting and drinking turning to sex work and crack smoking It’s a hard read and sometimes feels like one brutal or hard to relate to thing after another and that’s just reading it not living it But I thought it had real value in increasing empathyA few of the things I thought about as I read She and I grew up around the same time and place I was faced with a mix of the familiar and that which was far outside my own experience I thought back to girls I knew the relationships they had or interactions I glimpsed through the lens her memoir provides She writes of having difficult withholding parents and the effect on her This made me think of the weird alchemy around childhood experiences and how they do or don’t shape you what opportunities may or may not exist how choices narrow or expand at different points in our lives The way she writes about her self image while doing sex work as a very young woman and relationships with pimps and other sex workers was really thought provoking and subtle Her zigzaggy path to her current life made me think about backsliding into old patterns and what supports make a difference

  5. Murray Murray says:

    The emotion of Mistakes To Run With is disarming You digest Thanh’s concise sentences in gulps only to realize they are pungent Like desiccated bees perhaps? You are pulled along and yet pull away shocked with each chapter and turn of her story I am amazed at her survival her resilience her suffering and her raw strength Mistakes is an incredible story of a challenging and full life the living of which culminates in an incredible prose Her words are the affect and effect of buoyed hope

  6. Brandon Forsyth Brandon Forsyth says:

    “Brutally honest” is a time honoured cliché when talking about memoirs but this book earns all of the times I’m sure it will be used “Brutally inspiring” might be an even apt turn of phrase Yasuko Thanh’s raw prose and unflinching examination of her mistake filled path through life are sometimes as difficult to read about as they are admirable We’ve all made mistakes in our lives what makes this writer and this book so special is that here she has not run away from a single one of hers

  7. Akelly Akelly says:

    A balance of striking realistic grounding details of a high school runaway’s early life as a sex worker and eventually a mother’s account of becoming an author and dealing with mental illness I always enjoy a book that subverts the usual ideas and prejudices many of us have towards certain ways of life She wove beautiful motif and metaphor all throughout Devoured this in three days

  8. Shandi Pattison Shandi Pattison says:

    It’s an interesting enough read I think for those that can relate to a troubling yet not excessively abusive childhood Torturous thinking turned mental illness drug abuse bad relationships disregard for one’s body The story ends abruptly with something like Oh and then I saw a therapist and went to university where I discovered I was smarter thanI thought and now I win literary awards I found it annoying as a person who has had similar experiences Rant done

  9. Alexis Alexis says:

    A really beautiful and poignant memoir about growing up in a loveless family struggling with childhood depression and living on the streets Thanh is great with description and in her honesty I could not put this book down I found it very arresting and gripping I wish the best for Suko and for her mental health

  10. Ms. Wendy B. Ms. Wendy B. says:

    As an avid reader of the memoir genre I've come to expect a carefully crafted arc in the storytelling which I did not feel in reading this book I wanted to like it especially as it's written by a local author and by someone who managed to harness reading and writing as a way to leave a life as a sex trade worker HoweverI honestly feel that this book needed significant editing of detail or perhaps a careful curation of those detailsEvery chapter seemed to be a variation of previous chapters a detailed recounting of bad dates tricks drug use and of toxic interactions with her pimp As a result the book read like a personal diary recounting individual mistakes rather than as an introspective attempt to meaningfully catalogue and reflect on key incidents and people that shaped the narrator's choices in life I think that the curation of details is important in personal stories if the narrative is going to move beyond shock value and challenge the reader to think beyond that person's life story to broader themes If you don't care about those broader themes this book will likely be appealing because it certainly offers a detailed look into one individual's tumultous life on the streets but if you are looking for something with depth you may be disappointed

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