Hell If We Don't Change Our Ways

Hell If We Don't Change Our Ways

Brittany Means

Published October 3, 2023

Now in paperback!


An ode to the power of the human spirit and the written word to combat the most harrowing of childhood memories.  


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Brittany Means’s childhood was a blur of highways and traumas that collapsed any effort to track time. Riding shotgun as her mother struggled to escape abusive relationships, Brittany didn’t care where they were going—to a roadside midwestern motel, a shelter, or The Barn in Indiana, the cluttered mansion her Pentecostal grandparents called home—as long as they were together. But every so often, her mom would surprise her—and leave.

As Brittany grew older and questioned her own complicated relationships and the poverty, abuse, and instability that enveloped her, she began to recognize that hell wasn’t only the place she read about in the Bible; it was the cycle of violence that entrapped her family. Through footholds such as horror movies, neuropsychology, and strong bonds, Brittany makes sense of this cycle and finds a way to leave it.

While untangling the web of her most painful memories, Brittany crafts a tale of self-preservation, resilience, and hope with a unique narrative style—a sparkling example of the human ability to withstand the most horrific experiences and still thrive.

What people are saying...

“Hell If We Don’t Change Our Ways will change the way readers understand what, and if anything, actually survives our childhoods. What is a parent? But the book's lasting impact might be what it demands of the memoir genre. Brittany Means has, at once, created the most readable and the most psychologically rigorous book I've read in decades. I needed the reminder that art can do this.”

Kiese Laymon

author of Heavy

“Brittany Means has pieced together the shards of a devastating childhood in this powerful memoir. It’s gut-wrenching but at the same time triumphant, harrowing yet exquisitely told. Hell If We Don’t Change Our Ways is a story of survival that left me choked up and cheering.”

Jeannette Walls

author of The Glass Castle

“Hell If We Don't Change Our Ways is a memoir that balances a real generosity for the self, a real generosity for the world the self existed and exists in, but it is still sharp, stark, honest, and operates with an enviable clarity. The writing expands lived emotions that people often flatten: sadness, fear, pleasure. Within that expansion, a reader is offered an entire universe.”

Hanif Abdurraqib

author of A Little Devil in America

“So vivid is the writing, that at moments, I had to look up from this memoir and remind myself that I was not in the car with Brittany Means. . . . With heart-wrenching honesty, Means explores and reveals the violence that afflicts many children today. Her first-hand account is a testament to the resilience of children, but also a revealing telling that calls us to account as a country and people where too many children fall through the cracks in their profound suffering.”

David Ambroz

author of A Place Called Home

“Brilliantly paced, impeccably written, and truly moving, Hell If We Don’t Change Our Ways is storytelling at its most powerful and most vulnerable; through each scene of brutality and betrayal, Brittany Means shows us the extraordinary lengths we often must go to find humanity, forgiveness, and trust.”

Susan Steinberg

author of Machine

Why Zibby Loves It…

I read this entire book in one sitting, only pausing to cover my eyes and regroup a few times when Brittany’s experiences overwhelmed me. But, as she points out in the text, she doesn’t get to close her eyes.

Brittany is a dazzling literary talent. Her ability to withstand the most difficult childhood was one thing. But to spin it into narrative gold is quite another. If she never got out of bed again, I would understand. Instead, she has delved deep into memory and trauma to make sense of the past, writing about it an original, breath-taking, emotional way that stayed with me — and always will.

Inspiring, fresh, original, and beyond powerful, this memoir deserves to win every prize imaginable. The real prize is her own survival.