Book Review

Taraji on being a single mother and Hollywood stardom

Around The Way Girl
Around The Way Girl by Taraji P. Henson. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG 

If you’ve watched the Fox series Empire, then you probably know the character Loretha “Cookie” Lyon. She’s extra. Cookie is loud, in your face, funny, ambitious and a go-getter.

She plays a tenacious mama bear with a fashion sense. Go on, Google her and see for yourself. In season one, episode one, Cookie, played by Taraji P. Henson, gets out of jail, and heads out to her gay son’s place, the only member of her family who’s kept in touch.

She’s dressed in a figure hugging animal print dress, large golden loop earrings, white fur coat and sky-high heels.

With that show syndicated across most major networks in the world and Netflix, Taraji Penda Henson is really a household name. She graces various silver and big screens with her various projects. She’s amazing. There’s no denying how skilled and talented the 48-year-old is. Like wine, she gets better with age. Not just talent-wise.

Taraji’s book Around The Way Girl, starts from the beginning, after she was old enough to be self-aware. One of her very first memories is of her father kidnapping her, and the ensuing chaos.


Taraji describes the rocky relationship that characterised her growing up with her father Boris Lawrence Henson, a Vietnam vet and mother Bernice Gordon in north east DC.

Boris looms like a shadow over the family and features heavy over the text of work. Of him she writes, “Daddy wasn’t average.”

Fatherhood is a theme Taraji explores in the book. From her father, his struggles, those of the father of her son Marcell Johnson, until his tragic death and her hopes and fears for her son. It’s a heavy subject for her.

Taraji raised her son with the help of her mother and with a support system of friends, teachers and family, he has grown into a respectable young fellow, one his mother is proud of, and admits to constantly worrying about.

The undertones of this is how a single mother can achieve her goals, thrive and never give up regardless of circumstance.

On some pages, as Taraji tells her story, you’ll be sure to see how this intersects with the life of her character Cookie, complete with the stereotypical black American violence and poverty they all too ready portray on popular television programmes.

There is no shame in this work. In her struggle. Or her story. It’s all what it is. Her tale will get you sometimes roaring in laughter, other times, grabbing a box of tissues.

Hollywood is a hard place for a woman. Let alone a black one, with nothing but stereotypical roles cast for her. One more reason for Kenyans to be proud of actress Lupita Nyong’o. For aspiring actors, filmmakers and script writers, she opens the curtains to the world of television and film.