Say what you will about teen drama Glee, but you have to admit that the series was a terrific showcase for young talent. The musical comedy propelled a number of hitherto unknown performers to global fame, many of whom have continued their journey in the entertainment industry since the show wrapped up two years ago. Among its prominent alumni is actress Naya Rivera, who received praise for her portrayal of the acerbic Santana Lopez, but also gained attention for the drama that appeared to be surrounding both her personal and professional life during and after her time on the Fox series.
The actress has opened up about her struggles and triumphs both on and off screen in Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes, and Growing Up, a memoir that explores the salient events from her life, beginning from her childhood to the present day.
Rivera talks about her beginnings as a child actress, starting with appearances in advertisements as a baby, and culminating in her first television role in The Royal Family at the age of five when her budding career hit a snag – the sitcom was cancelled after only one season following the death of its star, Redd Foxx (who suffered a sudden heart attack on the show’s set and passed away a few hours later). Despite getting a guest spot on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and a recurring role on Family Matters, the young performer couldn’t land any significant jobs in Hollywood during her childhood, and her acting career had effectively dried up by the end of elementary school.
The actress subsequently found herself struggling with anorexia and was misdiagnosed with depression. Her family also ended up facing financial problems, which further strained her parents’ – “aspiring model” mother and “surfer boy” father – rocky marriage, leading to their divorce when she was 17.
Despite a series of odd jobs including telemarketing, waitressing, and working in retail, Rivera stacked up a huge debt at a young age that would eventually take her 5 years to pay off, and had almost given up on her acting dream when she was cast in Glee, a little show that would go on to garner massive attention.
She relays the experience of being a part of the series, and says the cast and crew were “just as close-knit and the dynamics just as messy as they were on-screen”. She touches up on her rumoured feud with Lea Michele, saying that they are both “strong-willed and competitive” which is not a good mix; fondly remembers Cory Monteith, expressing her heartbreak at his untimely, “unnecessary” death; and says she isn’t “totally shocked” about her ex-boyfriend Mark Salling’s current legal troubles.
Also discussed in detail is her well-publicised relationship with ex-fiancé Big Sean and the very public dissolution of their engagement, which was quickly followed by her wedding to Ryan Dorsey, who was her husband at the time of the writing of this memoir. Rivera gushes about Dorsey – with whom she has a son, Josey – and tries to depict her marriage in a very positive light even though the couple separated a few months after the publication of this volume.
As with most such books, Sorry Not Sorry is a light, quick read. The prose is simple, although that is to be expected – you aren’t going to pick up a celebrity memoir if you wanted to read quality literature. But the book is fairly adequately written, and the author manages to get her point across in an interesting, engaging way.
Rivera comes off as quite candid in the memoir, especially when she openly talks about difficult or controversial topics, like her financial troubles, suffering from an eating disorder, decision to have an abortion, getting plastic surgery at the age of 18, and her identity struggles as a mixed race, “quarter-white, quarter-black, half-Puerto Rican” woman. But this memoir isn’t exactly a tell-all. There are several topics that Rivera could have discussed in more depth. Even when she talks about an issue – like her purported feud with Michele, or Ariana Grande’s role in her split from Big Sean – she doesn’t really offer any proper details. There are several other subjects she could have delved into; for instance, she could have talked more about her siblings or explained why her music career stalled and her debut album never surfaced.
And she could have definitely shared more stories from the set of Glee, since Glee fans are most likely to read and enjoy this slim volume. If you are not significantly impressed by the actress or her best known project, then there isn’t much in Sorry Not Sorry that will pique your interest. But if you’ve enjoyed her work and miss the musical comedy that made her famous, then this book will offer enough titbits to entertain you while inspiring you with tales about the actress’s life and career struggles.