Published by Ballantine Books on November 3, 2015
Genres/Lists: Memoir, Non-Fiction
Length: 7 hrs, 17 mins
Read synopsis on Goodreads
Buy the book: Amazon/Audible (this post includes affiliate links)
Before listening to Leah Remini’s Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology, I had a general idea of who she was. I’ve watched King of Queens in syndication and liked what I knew about her. I didn’t know she was a Scientologist and, as someone who doesn’t follow a lot of entertainment news, only had vague recollection of the frenzy surrounding her leaving the church. So when she released a memoir about exactly that, I was intrigued. By the end of the book, I was awestruck by how strong she is as a person. What’s more, I felt as if she was telling her story to me, not the world. I can’t say I’ve ever considered an audiobook intimate before, but I can now.
Troublemaker is a sweeping history of Remini’s life, particularly her time with Scientology, from beginning to end. She starts out by sharing her and her family’s transgressions in an effort to preempt any attempts by the church to discredit her, and jumps right into her family life as a child. What is clear from early on is that she has a strong moral compass and compassion for others that no one, no one can shake. Her openness is refreshing and she is not ashamed to share the stories that many people may prefer to keep to themselves.
What is so great about Troublemaker is that Remini lets the reader in on her thought process, even the embarrassing moments. For example, it was giving hickies for leg warmers that served as a pivotal moment in her commitment because, upon telling her mom (a new Scientologist), she was not punished, but instead thanked for her honesty. From that point on, she was smitten with the church that offered everything she wanted; acceptance, friends, support, jobs, and causes to name a few. And although she was a rebel who questioned and disobeyed the church at a young age, she viewed each criticism of her involvement as a way to reaffirm her beliefs. After all, Scientology teaches respectful and polite disagreement, so anger only proved that she was more in control of her emotions, which can be pretty powerful for a firecracker like Remini.
But her rebellious streak continued and ultimately led to her very public departure from the church, which she is equally detailed about. She points to Tom Cruise as the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak, and while things weren’t perfect before he entered the scene, he destroyed what was left of her commitment. Portraying him as an oversized child, she had serious issues with the fact that his power was all-consuming and that church rules did not apply when he was around. She began asking around about this and even went so far as to call him a Suppressive Person, which is a big no-no and leads to ex-communication.
Word of her “questions” got around and she began getting weirder and weirder responses, which, of course, led to more questions. Rather than acquiesce to their demands to get it together, she continued to rebel by actively maintaining relationships with those not in the church (including Jennifer Lopez) and asking question after question about the disappearance of her friend, Shelly, who had been missing for years. She also refused to be in a documentary about the church because she didn’t approve of the harassment by church officials of the man interviewing them, wanted proof that her money was going to programs they said it was going to, and continued to be vocal about her concerns about Tom Cruise’s power.#Troublemaker by @LeahRemini is an intimate memoir about survival and living your best life. Click To Tweet
Not surprisingly, these “transgressions” culminated in her leaving the church in a very public way. Recognizing that she is lucky that her family left with her and that she had maintained friendship with those outside of the church, she is now in recovery. Although she’s no longer in the church, it was a big part of her life and, for most of it, a positive force that helped her get to where she is today. Finding out that what she spent decades believing in was not, in fact, what she thought it was was a major blow and it’s easy to pick up on her conflicting emotions. Luckily, she knew of other famous people who left the church and survived, including Jason Beghe and Nicole Kidman, and had hope. She also had the satisfaction if giving a very public proverbial finger to the church with her Roar performance on Dancing With the Stars, which I imagine was very therapeutic for her.
While the book is primarily about Scientology, I would be remiss in not mentioning the time she spends discussing her career. From her audition in Annie to being rejected for Friends, she shares her successes and heartbreaks. I also had no idea that King of Queens was so successful – so successful that it was the 12th longest sitcom comedy in history and was never cancelled, it ended it voluntarily. Not one to shy away from giving praise where praise is due, Remini shared the influences that Tony Danza, Jennifer Aniston, and Kevin James had on her.
By the end of the book, I felt as if Remini and I could be good pals. I get the feeling she would actually get my sarcastic and sometimes disturbing sense of humor but that’s quite possibly wishful thinking. That said, while Troublemaker is part memoir, part tell-all, it doesn’t strictly conform to either in the traditional sense. Instead, it seamlessly integrates the two, just as it did for her in real life. While her critiques of the church are scathing, her deeply rooted respect for it for most of her life precludes it from reading like a tabloid exposé. She’s not out to destroy the church, rather she’s raising awareness about some of their questionable practices, which adds an authentic, personal quality that is not found in most books that shine a light on the inner sanctum of Scientology.
Perhaps what I was most surprised by was how candid she was with her dislike of Cruise and his position. To be honest, it was nice to hear something about him and the church that wasn’t couched in qualifiers. So many books about Scientology play to both sides (likely out of fear of retaliation), but Remini is no shrinking violet and puts it all out there, regardless of the consequences. Her bravado and decision to leave are equally admirable and while life has certainly changed for her and her family, her strong sense of self assures that she will thrive in her new surroundings. She openly admits that her book will likely draw the wrath of the church (it did) but was prepared for it. For many, leaving the church can be a source of embarrassment, but for Remini it was a source of strength and it is almost as if she is only now living the life she wants, and deserves, to live.