A Piece of Cake: A Memoir

by Cupcake Brown

Let's face it. We all know the expression "You only live once." Or,
"Anything is possible if you put your mind to it." No matter how
many times we may say these types of things to our friends
or to ourselves, there are just as many other times where we brush
that "go get 'em" attitude aside in favor of the easy way out
because we are too lazy, too afraid, too set in our ways to
actually do what it takes to succeed.

In her relentlessly crushing yet ultimately uplifting debut memoir,
Cupcake Brown relays the down-and-dirty details of her
disaster-prone life with such vigor and frankness that readers will
be shocked to realize that she actually made it far enough to work
through her problems without giving in to the weight of them, let
alone graduate magna cum laude from college (without a high school
diploma, I might add), finish law school, pass the bar exam, and
publish a bound-to-be bestselling book, all the while remaining
completely sober. It is a wonder that one human being could
accomplish so much given the circumstances.

When Cupcake was 11 years old, her mother died from an epileptic
seizure at the age of 34. Not soon after, Cupcake and her brother
Larry were taken from the only father they ever knew and sent to
live with their real father, Mr. Burns. Despite the fact that Mr.
Burns had never paid child-support or visited his children, he was
given legal custody by the state of California. Rather than take
care of the kids he never wanted in the first place, he shuffled
them off to live in a foster home, run by a violent and viciously
manipulative woman who had been accused of "accidentally" killing
two of her charges a few years earlier, and whose nephew repeatedly
raped Cupcake for his own sick pleasure. Of course, the corrupt
"don't see, don't act" child welfare system never stepped in,
leaving Cupcake no choice but to run away and try to make it on her
own. At 11.

In the coming years, Cupcake would run away from Diane's abusive
care a number of times, only to be taken back by the police, a
worried neighbor, or a "concerned" social worker. In that time, she
became a child prostitute, turning tricks for truck drivers, other
foster fathers, and even cops. She smoked pot, drank copious
amounts of alcohol and took drugs, from LSD and cocaine to crystal
meth. At 13, she was brutally beaten by Diane's daughter and the
rest of the foster children living in the house at the time, and
consequently lost the baby she was carrying from an unknown father.
At 14, she fled to South Central Los Angeles to live with her
great-aunt and four male third-cousins, and joined a gang called
the Eight-Tray Gangster Crips. Although gang life provided her with
the love and support she lacked in the past, it further encouraged
her participation in illegal activities (robbing, stealing,
dealing), taught her how to use various weapons in drive-by
shootings, and deepened her love for and addiction to crack, PCP,
and other hard drugs. On her sixteenth birthday, she was shot twice
in the back by a rival gang member and was told that she might not
ever walk again. But, miraculously, she recovered.

Believe it or not, this all takes place in the first third of the
book. Over the next 300 or so pages, Cupcake continues to describe
her experiences --- flitting in and out of various 9-to-5 jobs
(while still on drugs, mind you), a failed marriage, and
dilapidated living arrangements (including, at one point, a
dumpster). To say that readers will be amazed that she didn't wind
up in jail or dead in an alley from an overdose is a gross

It is only in the last 100 pages that she actually deals with the
logistics of her recovery. With the same strength and determination
she used to run her life into the ground, Cupcake embraced the
process of recovery. She started going to a 12-step program for
recovering addicts and made friends (including her sponsor and
surrogate mother) who would change her life for the better. With
the support of her unbelievably compassionate boss (she worked as a
legal secretary), her family, and her new-and-improved self, she
turned her life around to such an extent that anyone familiar with
her past (not to mention the reader) would surely find this stable,
successful, and sober woman virtually unrecognizable.

To read Cupcake Brown's memoir is to witness the full range of
life's possibilities, both positive and negative. In an age where
spewing your personal tragedies onto the page and sharing them with
billions of scandal-obsessed unknowns has become quite commonplace,
it is not surprising that this book will satisfy the likes of Oprah
and the primetime media circuit. What makes A PIECE OF CAKE so
momentous and different, however, is that Brown's is not a story
full of privileged complaints, grandiose generalizations, or race
or class inspired clich├ęs. It is a true story told by a woman
in her own vernacular who needed to prove to herself that
she could beat all the odds to accomplish the virtually impossible.

Reviewed by Alexis Burling on January 18, 2011

A Piece of Cake: A Memoir
by Cupcake Brown

  • Publication Date: April 10, 2007
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway
  • ISBN-10: 1400052297
  • ISBN-13: 9781400052295