African American Literature Book Club Review

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Book Reviewed by Anita D. Diggs

PHD (Po Ho on Dope) to Ph.D.: How Education Saved My Life by Elaine Richardson begins in a poor and working class section of Cleveland Ohio during the 1960s. Daddy is a retired musician who keeps himself busy as a volunteer superintendent of the building where he and his family live. Mama (a Jamaican immigrant) is a kind, hard-working, cleaning woman who dreams of a better life for her son, Chris and daughter, Elaine.

Elaine Richardson’s descent from innocent junior high school kid to drug-addicted prostitute begins with a deep seated sense of guilt. Shocked and depressed by the abortion of a baby conceived during her first sexual experience, Richardson starts hanging with the wrong crowd. She is only 13 when she meets Andrew Ball, a 17-year-old thug who has been in and out of juvenile detention centers for many years. He is cool, good looking and a smooth talker. She is smitten and starts breaking curfew to spend time with him. Andrew is a hustler who is supported by a young prostitute called Fat Bitch and Richardson is too young to understand that it won’t be long before he turns her out as well.

Mama tries to stop the downward cycle which is on the horizon but her daughter is stubborn, in love and willing to do anything for Andrew.

He calls from jail and tells Richardson that he needs money to get out and that Fat Bitch will help her learn the ins-and-outs of whoring to pay the bill. After a few awkward and dangerous episodes, Richardson becomes somewhat comfortable in her new role. On one occasion, she and a fellow hooker named Candy take two johns up to a hotel room. She writes, “We played wit em, danced for em, switched up, let em drink up, sexed em up, ripped em off and got out. My first night in the big leagues.” READ MORE ON aalbc.com/reviews/phd-to-phd.html