Most authors write in order to tell a story that is bottled up inside – whether it is fiction or not. In many cases, the story they need to tell is some version of their own life, because they believe that it will be interesting, helpful, or even cathartic – both to readers and themselves. In Always Picked Last, Kevin Kearns recounts his life as a bullied child, and delves into his journey to seek self-confidence, come out on top in life, and use his knowledge to help thousands of others.
Losing his father at a young age, right before the grueling teenage years set in, is hard for anyone, and Kearns fearlessly takes readers through that emotional and painful time in his life. Following that, an extended period of bullying and abuse from the other neighborhood kids is his adolescent destiny, as his smaller size makes him the prime target of their attention. He is an insecure and uncertain child, the butt of every joke, and in those delicate formative years, his psyche is under constant attack.
It isn’t until he finds karate, and the joy that comes with putting on his gi every Wednesday, that his life begins to turn around. Martial arts is initially his way of fighting back, but the true philosophy of martial arts begins to change Kevin, and sets him on the path he would follow for the rest of his life. He experiences isolation and loneliness at a very young age, along with the feeling of being ignored or dismissed by his peers; those memories are recounted in brutal detail, and Kearns’ passion bleeds through on the page. This isn’t simply a retelling of a “Karate Kid”-style plot; the author reveals his moments of weakness and failures, the disappointment in his mother’s eyes, and his occasionally poor choices in making friends. This imperfection and introspection of the story’s “hero” makes it all the more powerful.
More than a memoir, the book contains thoughtful, and at times philosophical, reflections on bullying, childhood, parenting, growth and personal improvement. Kearns has a strong sense of self-awareness, but also recognizes the universality of his experience, so he uses his story as a conduit for inspiration and the self-improvement of others. He advises against the tempting numbness of alcohol, the false confidence that can be derived from physical strength, and the dangers of judging others at face value. Whether or not his individual story appeals to each reader, the wisdom that this man has gained over his life is on full display.
The style of writing often mirrors the age during that particular memory – the simplistic, choppy recollections of childhood, the awkwardness of first love, and the pain of a first tragic loss. The narrative flow is relentless, at times resembling a series of journal entries, but there are sporadic moments of poetic reflection within the prose, and highly detailed scenes that provide variety to readers. There are a few grammatical and technical errors, and some of the sentence structures come off awkwardly. A minor editing sweep through the book could help to firm up any loose ends and improve some of the more basic writing habits that arise.
Overall, the message of Always Picked Last is powerful and the narrative is engaging and relatable. Kevin Kearns does an excellent job of bridging the gap between personal reflection and accessible wisdom, making this a worthwhile read in every way.
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