Eat Cake. Be Brave.


By Melissa Radke

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From the star of USA reality show The Radkes and creator of the viral “Red Ribbon Week” video, this is a hilarious and inspiring story of finding self-confidence in a world of naysayers.

My name is Melissa Radke, and there is a very real chance you have no idea who I am or why I wrote a book. But admit it, you’re curious!

Even though millions of people seem to like watching my videos and The Radkes TV show bemoaning the trials of parenting, marriage, French braiding, faith, and living life as an anti-aging female, you may still be wondering who let me write a book. I mean, books are written by people who say things like, “I was having a root canal and I literally died in the chair. I saw heaven. Also, when I came back to earth I could speak Mandarin.” Yeah, that didn’t happen to me.

I wrote this book because when I turned 41 I made the decision to live brave, bolder, and freer. I thought our lives were supposed to change when we turned 40. But mine changed when I turned 41 and I set out to prove that it wasn’t too late for me. And maybe, just maybe, reading about my journey to find my sense of self-worth will help you rightfully believe in yours. This book is about how all the years of my life led up to the one that changed it.

So, cut a big slice and raise a fork…
Here’s to bravery.
Here’s to courage.
Here’s to cake.
(And not the crappy kind, like carrot.)



Hi. My name is Melissa Radke, and there is a very real chance you have no idea who I am. But trust me on this: You are going to love me.

Those are the exact words I said to my college roommate immediately upon meeting her the first day of freshman year. A few weeks later she would move to another hall because of my snoring and take three pairs of my sneakers with her. I hope you don’t decide to do that. But if you do, joke’s on you, sucker, because I don’t wear sneakers anymore. Flat feet! Boom!

I wasn’t planning on writing a preface to my own book. It seems gauche. I think prefaces are reserved for authors who have written a few best-selling books or been interviewed by Gayle King; authors who say things like:

“I wrote this in a cabin in the Andes, Gayle. I was snowed in for three months and had to forage for my own food.”

“This book came to me after I came face-to-face with my own existential existence.”

“Believe it or not, Gayle, I was having a root canal and I literally died in the chair. I saw heaven. And when I came back to earth I could speak Mandarin.”

None of those happened for me.

Although if Gayle King were to ever ask me…

“I wrote this book between taking my kids to the local pool and picking out flip-flops at Old Navy. Did I ever have to forage for my own food? No, in fact, I ate my weight in chicken strips.”

“This book came to me after I looked directly into one of those mirrors with the ten times magnification. Never, ever do that.”

“I have never seen heaven, I have never experienced hell…Oh wait, yes, I have! At some point during writing chapter 5, I agreed to attend one of those ceramic paint parties with some of my friends. I would consider that hell.”

So yeah, a preface, coming from me, seems brazen. I figure you should just turn the page and see for yourself whether we are going to be friends; you shouldn’t just take me at my word—you should make me earn it.

But wait!

Before you do.

There are a few things about me that I want you to know first.

I have been married for twenty-three years at the writing of this book; seventeen of those have been awesome. I love David with all my heart even though he is dogmatic, authoritarian, imperious, dictatorial, uncompromising, unyielding, and unflexible. I call him the Attorney General, for he is full of rules and regulations, and no fun can be found in him at all. I mean, think about it, not once have you ever heard anyone say, “Hey! Let’s have a party this weekend! Somebody call an attorney general and see if they can come; they’re a lot of fun!” No. Instead you hear sentences like, “The state attorney general will be tried twice over charges of securities fraud and violation of federal securities regulations.” Oh yeah…now there’s a party. And yet, this year, when he surprised me with a vow renewal on a beach in Maui with our dearest friends, I said to him what I believe wholeheartedly to be true: It’s you, David Radke. It has always been you. (But just in case he ever murders me: The reason is hidden in the fifth sentence of this preface.)

We have two children. Their names are Remi and Rocco. I want so badly to tell you that our children are named things like Charlotte after my great-grandmother who came over from Croatia to experience a New World, or Elkanah, which is a Hebrew word meaning “the zeal of God.” But the truth is, we saw “Remi” stitched across the back of a child-size rocking chair that had been marked 40 percent off, and Rocco DiSpirito is a chef with pretty hair. I saw him on a reality show once. That’s right. I make my choices based off reality TV and storewide discounts. I’m not proud of it. What I am proud of, though, are those two children. We waited a long time and fought hard for them. I have often said my children are my Purple Hearts: They are the reward that came to me after I took a wounding from the battle. And I would do it all again even if I knew it meant my Friday nights would be spent eating at Chick-fil-A, watching Boss Baby, and falling sound asleep at eight fifteen p.m. I would do every bit of it again. For them.

I come from a big-boned Southern family. We laugh really loudly, and we cook a whole lot. When you marry into our family you can be assured of these three things:

  1. If you are shy or timid or quiet, it is registered as “non-love” and they will wonder why you hate them and won’t speak to them and they will grieve over this until the day you finally decide to be as loud and obnoxious as they are, at which point they will whisper behind your back, “What’s going on with the Attorney General? At first, he never spoke to us, and now he is so loud your mother couldn’t hear the timer going off on the oven so her chicken and dressing turned out dry…I just don’t understand what we could have done to make him hate us so much.” You will never be able to figure this out. Don’t try.
  2. If you try to bring anything into our homes for a holiday get-together that is not homemade, you will be asked leave. That is all. They will not even discuss this with you.
  3. If you are a female who has married into our family: Do not look better than we do in a bathing suit. Now, as you can imagine, this is tricky because we all look horrible in a bathing suit. But we need you to look horrible-er. Don’t try to trick us by wearing a sarong over your swimsuit and saying it’s because you gained weight. No! You will wear a swim dress and you will look awful in it.

I also want you to know that 97 percent of everything you read in this book is absolute truth. I cannot say 100 percent because I saw that Oprah episode where she questioned James Frey, and y’all, she lit that guy up! So, yeah, some of these things happened too many years ago, and I get gray on times or dates or surrounding events. I do not, however, get gray on my feelings. I am never gray on what is true to me. I remember what I felt. Isn’t that always the way? We might not remember what they wore, but we remember how they made us feel small. So, I would just advise you to be careful how you treat people…they might just write a book someday.

I wrote this book for two people, and two people only. You and me.

I wrote it for me because when I turned forty-one I decided to be brave with my life. I decided to live differently than I ever had before. I have never jumped out of an airplane, I have never climbed Mount Everest, and do not even think about trying to get me down in one of those cages to see sharks. No, this was a different kind of bravery. It was the kind where I decided to live bolder and freer, unfettered by what moms are supposed to do or how middle-aged women should behave. It wasn’t too late for me.

I would make sure of it.

No one’s life is supposed to change at forty-one.

But mine did.

Mine changed drastically.

And I met it, courageously.

To the Very Serious Reader, and also to the woman who coincidentally came across this book in a bookstore somewhere and simply bought it because it had the word cake in it:

I wrote it for you. I spotted you, you know?

I spotted you waiting in line for the newest Reese Witherspoon movie.

I spotted you sitting in church or in the booth behind me at my favorite Mexican food place.

I saw you in line at the bank or in the pediatrician’s office with a sick child.

I watched you serve drinks on a crowded flight and take tickets on opening night.

I passed you coming out of the bathroom at a Coldplay concert, and I saw you order a coffee on a cold Monday morning.

I saw you shopping alone. I saw you teaching my children. I saw you taking their temperature.

I’ve seen you laugh when you didn’t feel like it, and I’ve heard you cry when you wanted to scream, and I just wanted you to know—I just wanted to make absolutely sure you knew—you were seen. You were seen when the doctor’s report was bleak, and you were seen when the papers were served. You were seen at your best, and you were seen at your worst.

When friends left and lovers cheated.

When lies were told and truth was distant.

You were not forgotten, looked over, or abandoned.

I am here today because you are one of God’s personal favorites. As in, if He was having a huge get-together with loud music and friends and family, He would make sure you knew you were invited. He would refuse to even cut the cake until He knew you were in the house. There would be no toasts, no cheers, and He wouldn’t dare let anyone even think about cranking up the music unless you were standing close by. And maybe, just maybe, it will take you reading about me finding my worth in order for you to finally believe in yours.

So, here’s to bravery.

Here’s to courage.

Here’s to cake. (And not the crappy kind, like carrot.)


Chapter 1

A List of Things We Should Probably Get Out of the Way.

You know those things that travel around Facebook where you get to list various interesting things about yourself? It’s kind of the adult version of an eighth grade slam book. Y’all! No one has ever asked me to do that. Nor have they begged or pleaded with me (when everyone knows that is specifically what I want). Not that you necessarily have to be asked—but it would be nice. A quick post with “Hey, Mel, I would love to hear your thoughts on yourself” never hurt anybody.

But never.

Not once.

Sometimes at the bottom of the post different people will be tagged and it will say, “I now tag these four people because I know theirs will be awesome: Rhonda Brady, Kelli Hankins, April Willett, Kerri Mullins. Go for it, girls!” But no one has ever tagged me—and y’all, I’m starting to get whiny about it.

But who’s laughing now? Because I’ve got myself a book, suckers! So, I’m going to dedicate an entire chapter to the oddities, abnormalities, and endearing qualities that make me, me.

Will this chapter change your life in any way? No, absolutely not.

Will it make you brave? No.

But it might make you want to eat cake. Or not. I don’t know.

There is also the small chance it might make you feel a lot less weird and a lot more normal. Or it will make you look into therapy. Both are wins!

*  *  *

So here we go. A list of twenty-six things about me that will surprise some, intrigue none, and embarrass my mother.

  1. I am a hands person. I determine whether I want to even get to know you by looking at your hands. I once had a meeting with one of the best business managers in all the land but it was a firm no for me before the appetizers even arrived when I saw his fingers looked like Twinkies. Interesting side note: My hands look like a polar bear’s paws. When I eat chicken, I look like a bear that just wrestled its dinner out of a stream. I’m not going to get over my hands issue, but I am going to have to ask that you get over yours.
  2. I cannot say the word rewind. I say re-rind. Don’t try to fix me. You cannot imagine my delight when VCR tapes went out of fashion.
  3. I once went to Sonic and asked the voice taking my order if their wieners were all beef. He did not answer me for twelve seconds. When he came back, his reply was, “Yes, Mrs. Radke, Tim says his wiener is definitely all beef and that you’ll love it.” The saddest part of this story, I am telling you, is that I went to church with Tim’s mom and should have called her right then and told her about her child. But I didn’t. Because I was flattered. I ate there once a week for two years.
  4. I wrote Kirk Cameron a letter in the fourth grade because I needed him to know I was in love with him and that we shared a mutual love of racquetball. I am guessing the reason he did not write me back was because I wrote the sentence: “I score a lot of points in racquetball and especially love playing it in the out of doors.”
  5. My friend Wendy Rojo has done my hair for nine years. She cannot believe I still have a strand of hair in my head due to the abuse we have given it over the years. “You have the strongest hair, Melissa. I don’t know how it hasn’t broken off at the root already.” Whenever she says things like this I blush and feel so proud. I imagine it must be how some Olympian feels.
  6. I sneak Chick-fil-A into movie theaters all the time, and they are either oblivious or used to me.
  7. There is no place I would rather be than with my husband. I would hang out with him twenty-four hours a day if I didn’t get on his nerves so much.
  8. I find it hard to “find my place” a lot, and when that happens I am in the seventh grade all over again. Those feelings don’t go away as you get older. You just get more adept at handling them.
  9. I am awkward in crowds. I cannot make small talk, and I am funny at extremely inopportune times. Once I went with my husband to a bigwig Christmas party in Nashville with very lovely people who love Jesus and could afford hair extensions and expensive shoes. There, everyone made a stocking at the fancy-shmancy craft table. All the lovely, long-haired people wrote “Noel” or “Joy” or “Glad Tidings” on their stocking. I wrote “Porn Star.” I would like to personally apologize for my supreme awkwardness that night and just say that I felt really bad when, later that evening, everyone went and hung theirs on the tree while singing “Silent Night” and I had to hang mine beside the stocking with “Happy Birthday, Jesus” on it. I cried the whole way home, and no one ever invited me back.
  10. I have zero fear of death. I heard the late Elizabeth Edwards say that once you have lost a child, death has no hold over you and it doesn’t frighten you. She was right. Let’s just say that when it’s time…I’ve got people there. She also said, “If you know someone who has lost a child, and you’re afraid to mention them because you think you might make them sad by reminding them that they died—you’re not reminding them. They didn’t forget they died. What you’re reminding them of is that you remembered that they lived, and that is a great gift.” She was right, and I need you all to know this.
  11. I am Christian. Not the kind that protests at your funeral. Not the kind that protests your marriage. I am more the kind that laughs the loudest and jokes the saltiest. I forgive quickly and easily because that was what was done for me. I hate injustice and yet feel powerless against it sometimes. So I pray, because God hates injustice, too. I want to tell you that I am a humble Christian, but nothing—absolutely nothing—could be further from the truth. I am working on this. I am also working on lying…because that last sentence I typed was a lie.
  12. Both of my children are adopted. I am a big fan of adoption. Huge! I think everyone should do it. Absolutely everyone.
  13. My children know they are adopted and have known since they were old enough to understand the part in Disney’s Tarzan when the momma gorilla finds Tarzan and takes him home to live with her. We have hidden none of it from them. We honor their biological parents by using Mr. and Miss with their names and making them sound as wonderful as Iron Man or Wonder Woman. And why not? They are heroes, both in our home and in our hearts.
  14. I smell everything. Listen to me: everything.
  15. I have seen every episode of Law & Order: SVU ever aired, and I can tell you who did it about 3 percent of the time.
  16. I do not know how I feel about certain issues until I ask my husband what he thinks. Or my mom. Or my friends. This should not be. It makes me feel weak and inept and not able to form my own opinions and thoughts. And yet the thought of growing in this area seems overwhelming to me as I’ve been asking much longer than I’ve been deciding. You should know this is going to change very soon. I can no longer be worried about what it might cost me. I can only be concerned with the voice I might be lucky enough to find.
  17. When I am nervous I talk really fast and really high.
  18. I tried to make a top-five celebrity hot list, but I couldn’t do it! I could only come up with one. Conan O’Brien. He’s been my whole list forever. That’s not to say that if I ever met Channing Tatum I wouldn’t make sure there was no food in my teeth…
  19. I started a long battle with depression my senior year of high school, and I excelled at it until I was in my thirties. Then I got freaking sick of it and decided to call it names and make it obey me. I became its boss instead of it becoming mine. I also talked to a therapist and learned all about myself and gave myself permission to cry when I wanted to cry and throw things when I wanted to throw things, as long as I cleaned up all the messes and no one else had to. I wish the story was better than that, but it isn’t.
  20. My earliest memory in my life was walking down the hall late at night and finding my mom, alone on the couch, watching Johnny Carson. I crawled up beside her, watched him, and knew, even at a young age, that his was the best job in the world and he was the best at doing it. I cried the day he died.
  21. I think about my weight every single solitary day of my life. Some days I am so unhappy with it that I don’t want to leave the house. Other days I am unfettered and I dress up and kill it. If I took all the energy I give to my obsession with this imperfection, I would have immensely more energy to give to the things that actually matter. I am nothing if not a work in progress.
  22. To the person who just scoffed and mumbled, “Then do something about it”: If I find you, I’m going to punch you. To the person who just sighed and cried and uttered “me too”: If I find you, I’m going to hold you.
  23. I am a terrible friend. Horrible, really. I forget to respond to texts or emails, and don’t even bother calling me because I’m not going to answer. I need you to talk about your problems 73 percent less than I talk about mine. And I am going to—whether you ask or not—tell you what to do with your hair. The good news in all of this? I tell people this up front, so the bar is low.
  24. If I call you an idiot, a dummy, or a fool; joke about your divorce; hide a stray cat in your car that you don’t find until you get home; “forget” my wallet every time we go to dinner; or post obscene things to your Facebook timeline when you aren’t looking, then this means I love you. I really, really love you so much it hurts.
  25. I rarely finish anything.

Chapter 2

Right after the Inhale.

Do away with all the HAPPY 40TH! party paraphernalia. Throw out all the black napkins and toss the FABULOUS AT 40 banner. Contact the party stores and the event planners. Believe me when I tell you, forty is not the issue. Don’t bother throwing anyone a happy fortieth. They’ll be fine. It’s forty-one you need to focus on.

Forty-one is when you want to lie down in traffic.

Forty-one is when you want to dig a hole in your backyard and throw yourself in it.

Forty is a party, man. People are laughing, music is playing. It’s a new chapter in your life, a new season. It’s like you get a do-over for your obnoxious twenties. You read articles in Cosmo about how glamorous forty can be when you come into your identity and wisdom. And let’s not forget about the whole “You hit your sexual peak” thing. Hello! Things are looking up. It’s like you’ve been invited to some swanky middle-aged sorority where your pass to get in is that you must be over forty and have at least one funny story about how you pee when you sneeze.

No one remembers the pain of turning forty, because there’s a party with friends all around you, and if they’re good friends they brought a cake and lot of gifts. (Of course, if they’re real friends they brought a gift and lots of cake.) My friends flash-mobbed me. That’s right. David and I were eating at a small roadside crawfish restaurant that I love (don’t judge me). David took forever to get ready—which was odd—and wound up getting us there just minutes before closing. We ordered our catfish right as they were turning off their neon OPEN light. We were sitting at one of their outside tables when car after car after car came driving in, honking, waving, screaming. I sat in disbelief as my friends rushed from their cars, set up tablecloths, and placed balloons on the tables beside me. One even picked up my plate and said, “Excuse me! We’re having a party here,” as she fluffed out a red and white checkered tablecloth and laid it on my table. A DJ set up in the corner while the gift table was created, and the lights of the restaurant turned back on as they prepared to churn out fried catfish and hushpuppies to everyone I loved.

It was a fun night and about as redneck as I am. We danced and laughed, and I let forty wash over me with hoopla and much fanfare. (My friends would also tell you that there is “false humility” and “crap humility,” and that I am full of crap. They would tell you I reminded them of my fortieth birthday beginning the very first day of my thirty-ninth year. Do not believe them. They want attention.)

I had always imagined turning forty in a most somber way, quietly and alone, in a cabin somewhere, surrounded by weapons and icing in a can. But, hey, surround yourself with the right attitude and a lot of love, and you will have no choice but to celebrate!

Fast-forward to forty-one, and I’m thawing out a roast that’s been in my freezer for seventeen months and picking up my own cookie cake in the mall.

Nobody calls you at forty-one.

No one throws you a party.

Some people give you a shout-out on Facebook, but all in all forty-one is your sign that what happened at forty was no joke, that it was real. It was the last birthday party you will ever have that is all just for fun and not planned with the intention of pitying you or because they are about to tell you that they’re putting you in a home. After forty, you are on the downhill slide and going nowhere fast. Imagine it like one of those cartoons where the villain ties the woman to the train and it’s headed off the side of the cliff and she’s screaming. Only you are the woman and the villain refused to give you your reading glasses, so you aren’t totally sure where you are or what all the signs are saying.

Yeah, that pretty much sums up what turning forty-one was like for me.

Also, my cookie cake said “Happy Birthday Mealissa.” So…yeah…it was awesome.

On the first day of my forty-first year, I sat around a table that I had set, with a dinner I had made, a cake I had picked up, and kids I had just finished helping with math homework. David was celebrating the day I had arrived on earth by being willing to put the ice in the glasses. My parents walked in without even knocking because, per my mom, “knocking and ringing doorbells are for UPS drivers and Girl Scouts,” so why on earth would they?

My dad saw the giant cookie cake and said, “Oh my word, is that today? And who’s Mealissa?”

“Mealissa is me. And yes, it’s today. Don’t you even know when your own daughter’s birthday is?”

My mom cut in. “Melissa, why don’t you start eating real cake? Carrot is delicious.”

“Of course I know when my own daughter’s birthday is. December 1, 1973. Five fifty-five p.m. It’s not what day you were born on I have a problem with—”

“It’s what day it currently is


  • "Melissa Radke... is a mom who gets it. We first came across Melissa when her 'Red Ribbon Week' video went viral, and we were hooked. Her honest approach to motherhood, paired with her sincerity, compassion, and amazing sense of humor has attracted a dedicated social following and an enthusiastic fan base."
    American Greetings Blog

  • "Melissa Radke...made me laugh AND totally resonated with me. Even though I know all moms go through this, it's still nice to be reminded that I'm not alone."—For Every Mom Blog

  • "There's a reason Melissa Radke boasts more than 100,000 Facebook followers: Her parenting videos are hilarious and relatable."—Us Weekly

On Sale
Jul 17, 2018
Page Count
320 pages

Melissa Radke

About the Author

Melissa Radke‘s online videos have reached more than fifty-seven million people on her Facebook page alone in a little over a year. Radke’s “Upside Down French Braid” video has close to ten million views and her “Red Ribbon” video has been viewed over 100 million times across multiple websites and media outlets. A Texan born and bred, Radke spent 15 years of her life in Nashville, Tennessee, where she worked as a studio session singer for Recording Artists after graduating from Belmont University. Since becoming a parent, she moved her family back to her East Texas hometown because the barbecue is better and the babysitting is free.

Learn more about this author