Book Review: Amber Ruffin And Lacey Lamar’s ‘You’ll Never Believe What Happened To Lacey’ – A Personal Account Of Living With Racism

by Rachel Bellwoar

Amber Ruffin is one of the funniest people on the planet. If you watch Late Night with Seth Meyers then you probably already know that from her recurring segments ‘Amber Says What’ and ‘Jokes Seth Can’t Tell’ (which she does with another hilarious writer on the show, Jenny Hagel), but she also has her own late-night talk show streaming on Peacock. New episodes of The Amber Ruffin Show air Fridays at 9 PM EST. Hagel is the head writer and they both still write for Seth Meyers, so that means double the content every week.

Ruffin also has the distinction of being the “first Black woman to write for a late-night network talk show in the United States,” which is a real “what?” statistic, because “what took late-night so long?” But then I guess that’s the perfect segue into Ruffin’s new book, You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories About Racism. Co-written with her older sister, Lacey Lamar, in it Ruffin and Lamar recount some of the racist things that have happened to Lacey over the years (and still happened to her while they were writing this book, so there are fresh, racist stories in these pages).

While Ruffin lives in New York, Lamar still lives in Omaha, Nebraska where they grew up. Rather than tackle these racist encounters chronologically, Ruffin and Lamar organize them from bad to worse, with the first chapter acting as a litmus test of sorts, for the unbelievable stories yet to come.

It’s not that these stories are unbelievable because they didn’t happen – they did! — but that they shouldn’t happen. The continued pervasiveness of racism and the different forms it takes is heartbreaking, even as Lamar and Ruffin are making you laugh. It’s ‘how could a person do this” funny. You have to laugh, or otherwise you’d cry (and that might happen, too).

While Ruffin and Lamar include a section on cops – and if you watched Ruffin’s openings to the Seth Meyers show the week after George Floyd was killed you might recognize some of them – the main focus of the book is on everyday acts of racism. A lot of Lamar’s stories take place at work. There’s a horrific free makeover decision, some terrible dating app experiences, a school play audition that’ll make you explode.

Another thing that’s very apparent after reading this book (if it wasn’t apparent before) is that racists come in all shapes and sizes. Someone who’s been nice to you can be racist. HR can be racist (and in a recent interview Lamar answered the question, “…if you could pick any one person to read this book… who would it be?” with “People in workplaces. Supervisors. CEOs…”).

Throughout the book Ruffin and Lamar use different fonts to indicate who’s talking. Ruffin is a professional writer but You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey is both sisters’ first book and they’ve already mastered the medium. Whether it’s inviting readers to interact with them over footnotes, adding photos to stories like the check one which Ruffin told on her show, or moving the “About the Authors” section from the back of the book to the front, every decision is smart and engaging.

You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories About Racism is available now from Grand Central Publishing.

The sisters are also doing a virtual book tour with dates throughout January.

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