November 2023

You Got Anything Stronger?

— You Got Anything Stronger? is the follow-up to Gabrielle Union’s bestselling 2017 debut essay collection, We’re Going to Need More Wine: Stories that are Funny, Complicated and True.
You Got Anything Stronger?
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Readers gather the courage to become storytellers, and the lifeline is passed, person to person, book by book.  The message remains, Keep going.

You Got Anything Stronger? is the follow-up to Gabrielle Union’s bestselling 2017 debut essay collection, We’re Going to Need More Wine: Stories that are Funny, Complicated and True.  In this second collection, Union immediately draws the reader in with her hope the essays will be experienced as a type of conversation between friends.  

Union is frank, heartfelt, poignant, and funny.  She covers a wide range of topics and does not shy away from deep discussions about her personal life.  She also cautions readers that her book contains a variety of topics that could be triggering, including infertility, rape, discrimination, and systemic racism.

She opens the memoir with Loved Even as a Thought, her painful recollections of her attempts to conceive over many years.  Union noted that she suffered through nine, heartbreaking miscarriages and a missed diagnosis of adenomyosis that had contributed to her inability to become pregnant.  The difficulties of these losses were only compounded by the impacts of social media and the public’s willingness to comment on her life and choices so negatively.

Union’s first essay ends with joy, however, as she and her husband ultimately welcomed their beautiful baby girl through a surrogate.  She notes, however, that this joy was tempered by the brutal reckoning of her body’s seeming failure to accomplish a successful pregnancy.  Union wrestles with the seemingly disparate feelings of both joy and grief that she experiences:

“Kaavia James was never in my body.  I could not nourish her and she could not find safety there… It’s a pain that has dimmed, but remains present in my fears that I was not, and never will be, enough.”

Union also recounts her own experience of rape as a young nineteen-year-old in Dream Team.  She skillfully describes not only the emotional impact of this violation but how so many critics in the world continue to view her very private assault primarily in terms of her race.  She mentions that watching not only the Dream Team play basketball in the Olympics that year, but of Gail Devers running her gold-medal race, helped her on the road to healing: “Gail Devers extended her hand, invited me to walk on the uncommon ground of excellence.”

Union goes on to celebrate her role as a stepmother in several essays, deftly describing the joys and challenges of mentoring and supporting Black children in a world that tends to negate them.  She eloquently describes the journey of one of her stepchildren, Zaya, as she discovered she was transgender. This journey of self-acceptance, support, and love of her family shines.  Union notes the importance of self-identification, using the appropriate pronouns, and taking the necessary steps within the school systems to ensure her stepdaughter felt accepted and supported for exactly who she was.

Union’s joyful love and devotion to her family are evident throughout this collection.  She offers an honest look at marriage and parenting while celebrating everything that makes her family special.  She paints such a vivid picture of her daughter’s doll collection that it is easy to picture them lined up in the grass one sunny day, as Kaavia James splashes and laughs in the pool.

Union also describes the efforts of many women to attain that perfect balance in their lives in one of my favorite essays.  She notes how mothers, daughters, wives, and friends are continuously trying to balance these different relationships along with the demands of work and home life.  She resolves that achieving grace instead may be a more attainable goal:

We find someone, or surround ourselves with people, who we can call upon to pick up our slack.  We pick up each other’s slack, knowing that we will need that same grace soon.

Union concludes her novel with Standards and Practices: A Tragedy in Three Acts, a potent, impactful essay about the considerable damage caused by widespread, systemic racism.  She notes specific instances of how overt signs of racism are still occurring in the media in several forms.  First, in the form of blackface characterizations that have occurred in mainstream sitcoms even in recent years.  Secondly, in the form of blackfishing, where white people attempt to appropriate the culture and appearance of Black people for their gain.  Finally, through the widespread availability and broadcasting of the loss of Black lives being replayed repeatedly as “enduring entertainment.”

In her final essay, Oh, One More Thing, Union acknowledges the difficulties we face in our current society and the strength it will take to do things differently.  She notes, “Instead of moving from fear, I began, slowly to extend myself grace, a combination of mercy and love we are deserving of simply because we exist.”  

She concludes her book with the recognition that even though the road ahead will be difficult, it will be well worth our efforts, “We are great because we feel and we tell the truth, and in so doing we create community.  We got this.”

Union’s call to action, along with this collection, is at turns devastating, inspiring, and hopeful.  I fervently hope that she is right; that as a community, we have not only got this, but we can find the strength and determination to move forward with fixing it too.

Our favourite quote from You Got Anything Stronger?

I thought of something he would sometimes say to himself and to others: “My belief is stronger than your doubt.” He usually said this when he was counted out after an injury, or walking away from a deal everyone thought he was crazy to turn away.

Remember when we hit it off so well that we decided We’re Going to Need More Wine? Well, this time you and I are going to turn to our friend the bartender and ask, You Got Anything Stronger? I promise to continue to make you laugh, but with this round, the stakes get higher as the conversation goes deeper.

So. Where were we?

Right, you and I left off in October 2017, when my first book came out. The weeks before were filled with dreams of loss. Pets dying. My husband leaving me. Babies not being born. My therapist told me it was my soul preparing for my true self to emerge after letting go of my grief. I had finally spoken openly about my fertility journey. I was having second thoughts—in fact, so many thoughts they were organizing to go on strike. But I knew I had to be honest because I didn’t want other women going through IVF to feel as alone as I did. I had suffered in isolation, having so many miscarriages that I could not give an exact number. Strangers shared their own journeys and heartbreak with me. I had led with the truth, and it opened the door to compassion.

When I released We’re Going to Need More Wine, the response was so great people asked when I would do a sequel. The New York Times even ran a headline reading “We’re Going to Need More Gabrielle Union.” Frankly, after being so open and honest in my writing, I wasn’t sure there was more of me I was ready to share. But life happens with all its plot twists. And new stories demand to be told. This time, I need to be more vulnerable—not so much for me, but anyone who feels alone in what they’re going through.

A lot has changed in four years—I became a mom and I’m raising two amazing girls. My husband retired. My career has expanded so that I have the opportunity to lift up other voices that need to be heard. But the world has also shown us that we have a lot we still have to fight for—as women, as black women, as mothers, as aging women, as human beings, as friends. In You Got Anything Stronger?, I show you how this ever-changing life presents challenges, even as it gives me moments of pure joy. I take you on a girl’s night at Chateau Marmont, and I also talk to Isis, my character from Bring It On. For the first time, I truly open up about my surrogacy journey and the birth of Kaavia James Union Wade. And I take on racist institutions and practices in the entertainment industry, asking for equality and real accountability.

You Got Anything Stronger? is me at my most vulnerable. I have recently found true strength in that vulnerability, and I want to share that power with you here, through this book.

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Gabrielle Union is an actress, executive producer, activist, bestselling author, and most recently, a Time100 cover honoree.  She has formed the production company I’ll Have Another, a haircare line focused on textured hair collections, and has joined Bitsy’s as a cofounder to help make healthy, allergen-friendly, school-safe snacks that are accessible and affordable to all families. 

Her first book, We’re Going to Need More Wine: Stories that are Complicated, Funny and True, was released in 2017 and instantly became a New York Times bestseller.

Learn, learn, learn, ladies and gentlemen... I think it’s very important to continue to challenge your mind.