Title: I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness to The Blind Side and Beyond
Author: Michael Oher with Don Yaeger
Publisher: Gotham Books (Penguin)
Pub. Date: February 8, 2011
Unless you just completely don't keep up with pop culture in any way (which there's nothing wrong with), you've likely heard of the movie, The Blind Side, based on Michael Lewis's book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game. Sandra Bullock won/was nominated for a variety of awards for best actress for her role in the movie. In brief, in case you aren't aware, The Blind Side, is the story of Michael Oher who went from being homeless to being adopted by the Tuohy family and ultimately overcoming his difficult past by finishing high school and college and being drafted into the NFL by the Baltimore Ravens. While I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, as did mostly everyone I know who saw it, I felt as though the movie focused largely on the Tuohy family and their taking Oher in. I wanted to know more about Oher and his thoughts on everything portrayed in The Blind Side, be it his thoughts on the situation in real life or his thoughts on how the movie portrayed him.
Though written in a slightly amateurish, conversational tone that is at times repetitive, I Beat the Odds did provide the additional insight into Oher's life that I was seeking. He gave more detail about his life growing up, what it was like moving from house to house, being raised by a mother who was addicted to drugs, and being tracked down constantly by the Department of Children's Services (DCS). As a former case worker for Florida's Department of Children and Families (DCF), I did find Oher's childhood perception of DCS to be interesting. Of course, as an adult he realizes that his case worker was trying to help, but as a child he thought of his case worker as someone his family had to run from. I don't know if I've read anything yet that gave me the insight into growing up in foster homes as this book did. I was able to emphasize with Oher's feelings of being unloved in these homes despite being treated well. There really is something to be said about that feeling of belonging that all people, but especially children, need. He also provided some sad truths about the down side of some foster homes.
In a way, this book wasn't directed towards readers in general but more towards foster children or those who specifically look up to Oher. This did slightly take away from the reading experience, but at the same time, I respect Oher's purpose. He has apparently received lots of mail from children who are in the situation he used to be (some of which he quotes in the book). He appears to have written this book as inspiration for them. He wants other children in similar situations to feel encouraged to aspire for more than they are often relegated and to overcome the somber statistics for children in foster care. He also makes it a point to describe throughout how much effort he put into his success and the attitude he had to maintain. He provides tips for overcoming the difficult situations such as finding a mentor, carefully choosing friends, etc. I have a high amount of respect for Oher for being able to decide what he wanted in life and doing what was necessary to achieve it. Some of the things he did, such as only maintaining friendships with those who had positive influences, was a great depiction of his character.
There was a small part where I worried he would lead others to believe that they, too, could become professional athletes. Even though he worked very hard to get there, there still has to be the understanding that there was a great mixture of talent and luck that got him where he is. Not every child who is athletically talented will make it nearly as far as he did. But after a while I changed my mind about him saying this specifically. And what I appreciated was that even though he excelled in sports, he emphasized the critical need for academic success in addition to his athletics. He worked vigorously at improving his academics, especially since, as a child, it was fairly optional for him to go to school. He never had anyone teach him the importance of education, so this was something he had to learn for himself and then try to catch up with others his age. I get that memoirs are often self-serving, but I do believe these things about the efforts he put into these parts of his life.
On an interesting side note, Oher mentions in the book that one of the parts of the movie that weren't true to life were the parts where the Tuohy's taught him about football and how to play. He describes how he spent his whole life observing and studying athletes so he could imitate their skills. I'm not sure why they changed this in the movie, but I did feel bad for him for that because I can imagine, considering how big a deal sports play in his life, to be depicted as someone who had to learn these concepts from his adopted family must have been frustrating and possibly embarrassing. This also fits into my thoughts that the movie focused on the great deed of the Tuohy family rather than on the actual life of Oher. (That's not to say I didn't really enjoy the movie or respect the family though!)
In all this was a short, but interesting read and one that would be great to pass on to those younger people in our lives!