Comedian, actor and presenter Tom Allen has written a memoir that really does shine. Scattered with his brilliant humour, charm and quirkiness No Shame – A Queer Life in Suburbia is without a doubt one of the best books I’ve read this year. Touching, humane and oh so funny, this book is a joy to read and provides a much needed escape for anyone feeling down in the dumps.
In No Shame Tom Allen looks back on his early life from childhood through to the awkwardness of his adolescence years to his tentative first polished-shoed steps into the world of adulthood. He narrates his experiences engagingly and puts the reader at instant ease, almost as if you’re both sitting down over a nice scone and tea, having a good old chat!
Starting with his upbringing in his hometown, he hilariously yet accurately describes the atmosphere of our South-East London borough. Although there is plenty of local humour in his anecdotes, the universal personality of suburbia can definitely translate to anyone who’s experienced suburban life. However I think the most universal aspect of his book is his experience of feeling like a misfit whilst growing up. Bullied and outcasted for being different, it’s fair to say that his school years were not the easiest. Yet he did find some refuge in the form of the music and drama departments thanks to some fabulous teachers which, eventually, have lead him onto the road where he finds himself today. With multiple reminiscences that will surly make any reader laugh, he also honestly depicts comprehensive school life without glossing over the hurdles that so many teenagers have to face. He balances his very witty storytelling with sincerity and has created a helping hand through his writing to make many young folk feel less alone in a world that can often feel more than overwhelming.
These anecdotes from his teenage years are equally hilarious as they are endearing and touching. Being different at school never normally equates to an easy ride, yet what I loved most about reading his book is that he shows us that school years don’t define where you go from there. Despite being bullied for being different from most of his peers, Tom Allen is a wonderful role model for young people going through similar situations to see that no matter what other people think, being true to yourself is far more a superpower than conforming to other people idea of ‘normal’ ever will be. No matter the unfair hardships the he faced being a young gay teenage boy who hadn’t come out yet and who enjoyed things like entertaining dinner guests, Victoria Wood sketches and the art of napkin folding, he is living proof that no bully ever wins in the long run; that being authentic and comfortable in your own skin gives you a type of confidence and lightness that nobody can take away. Although I don’t identify as LGBTQ+ I could definitely identify with feeling a little out of step with people as I’ve always felt a bit different, especially with people my own age, but once I’d closed his book I felt a little relief come over me that I’m not the only who feels a bit out of line with the world and it gave me a bit of confidence to accept myself as I am and that being me is enough, so I can only imagine the comfort and reassurance that reading his autobiography could give a person who’s part of the LGBTQ+ community who’s going through a hard time grappling with their identity.
Over the chapters you see Tom’s life unfold with increasing quirk and individuality and there isn’t a page that goes by that isn’t charming. From his weekend ventures into London to acquire Victorian style clothing to almost farce-like dinner parties involving not only his crush but his R.E teacher to rather hilarious escapades of being taught to drive by his father and misadventures overseas in America as a young man, it’s impossible not finish each chapter without a little bit of joy being added to your day. He has the ability to accessibly write about mundane everyday life scenarios whilst at the same time entertaining the socks of you!
You also get a peek into the world of comedy and entertainment with stories from his post-college drama workshops to finding himself on stage doing stand-up and even entertaining hoards of holiday makers each night aboard a gay cruise ship. But it has to be said that one of the things I enjoyed the most about his book is his interactions with his family, friends and teachers. These interactions were especially good when listening to the audiobook version with him doing brilliant voices that bring to life scenes of his memories which often make you feel like you were there.
Throughout his autobiography you can get a real scene of personality and I can genuinely say that he is just as lovely in person as he comes across in his book. When he visited the bookshop he immediately lit up the atmosphere. He took the time to get to know us booksellers and talk to passing customers, he put up with me taking photographs for my university course with real kindness and involvement and even wrote individual messages inside each of his books that he was signing for readers to enjoy. He was without a doubt one of the nicest people we’ve ever had the pleasure of doing a signing with at work.
So whether you’re already a Tom Allen fan or are just in need a little lifting then No Shame could be just the ticket for you. I can pretty much guarantee that it’ll leave you with a fizzing jollity and appreciation for the beauty of beating to your own drum!
Thank you Mr Allen for such a great book.
The feeling of not having confidence in ourselves, or of feeling guilty even though we haven’t done anything wrong, is, I think, something we all experience, and so I thought if I wrote about it other people might feel less alone.Tom Allen No Shame ~ A Queer Life in Suburbia
I hope you’ve enjoyed my review of No Shame by Tom Allen and that if you decide to pick a copy up, that it brings you as much joy as it did me. If you’d like to keep up with any of my bookish news you can find me on Instagram @viewsfromabookshop or to see my photography adventures you can follow @littlechaosphotography. Take care and as ever, happy reading! =]
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