Beginning in 1984, this is the story of JAMILA BATTLE from the age of 7 when she moved with her DADDY, MAMA, sister, and brother to Tennessee and suffered then survived a childhood of poverty and violent abuse at the hands of her father, a talented and charismatic jazz musician, to become a happy and successful doctor, wife, and mother. Divided into three major sections — Reboot, Repair, Rebirth — the story immediately draws the reader into the scenes of Jamila’s childhood before walking the reader through the steps taken to rise to a better life.
Reboot starts in a broken-down house as Jamila witnesses Daddy’s cruelty against Mama, experiences it herself, learns of Daddy’s schemes and Mama’s weakness, and begins to realize partly through her voracious reading her life is not normal. BIG MAMA’s visit provides a break from the violence, but when Big Mama asks to fondle her, Jamila examines more of the family’s past. Daddy’s abuse escalates and Mama tries to call for help which results only in a severe beating for everyone. Mama runs away but returns to another family beating and smothering until Jamila passes out. As Daddy becomes more violent, Jamila is forced to clean up the blood fueling a growing rage within her. After a partially loaded gun is fired point blank at her head on a thankfully empty chamber followed soon after by Daddy’s attempt to rape her, Jamila finally calls for help.
Repair reinforces finding the perfect life isn’t as easy as opening a book. Jamila discovers forms of abuse within the foster care system, but her academic tenacity earns her a position in a prestigious boarding school, saving her from the experiences of her siblings yet contributing to feelings of guilt and responsibility for their pain. Finally safe, she processes what happened to her with the help of friends, counselors, mentors, and her ability to earn a paycheck. Despite dating setbacks and post-graduation homelessness, she gets into Duke University. As her mother and siblings continue struggling against her father, Jamila joins a sorority and enters into a lifelong relationship with CHRIS BATTLE. She starts a family while working her way through medical school and trying to help her family. However, even as a wife, mother, and newly graduated MD, her own addiction keeps her from the happiness she deserves.
Rebirth continues Jamila’s story as she struggles against small town racism and the expectations of the medical community, both of which dredge up similar feelings to her abused childhood. Struggles with her sister reinforce Jamila’s sense of guilt for her broken family and send her back into victim hood before she realizes more healing is necessary. Returning to therapy and taking time for herself, she realizes how to take a more proactive, positive path through the adversity to find her way to a more satisfying, self-affirming practice from which she helps other women find a brighter, more peaceful and happier future for themselves.