Tin House Books

Book Review :: When They Tell You To Be Good by Prince Shakur

When They Tell You To Be Good a memoir by Prince Shakur published by Tin House Books book cover image

Guest Post by David Sohboff

In his debut memoir, When They Tell You To Be Good, Prince Shakur traverses geography and time to answer a question that has “haunted” him since adolescence, “Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?” There’s Shakur, a Jamaican immigrant, searching for a better life only to have his father murdered. There’s the closeted Shakur who faces his truth as well as his family’s violent proclivities. There’s Shakur, who travels the globe because, “If America could not deliver me what I deserved as a young and curious Black person, I deserved to try to find it where I could and not be overpowered by the kind of son or citizen I needed to be.” There’s Shakur, the revolutionary, who combats racism, homophobia, and colonialism. There’s Shakur, the humanist, who learns that “one of the best ways we can love people is to not be afraid of them.” There’s Shakur, the provocative writer who becomes “grateful for my body, my heart, my mind, and all the people who loved me and asked questions.” This speaks to the power of “Who Am I,” which Shakur asked early on and ultimately transcends to a universal query in this artful debut.


When They Tell You To Be Good by Prince Shakur. Tin House, September 2022.

Reviewer Bio: David Sohboff is an educator in Massachusetts and a student at Bridgewater State University, pursuing an advanced degree in English.