A superb memoir by any standard, but one of the best to have been written by a rock star.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

BORN TO RUN

The Boss speaks—and he does so as both journeyman rocker and philosopher king.

Wrapping up his long backward look at a storied life and the anthemic songs that punctuate it, Springsteen examines his motivations. “I wanted to understand,” he writes of the past, “in order to free myself of its most damaging influences, its malevolent forces, to celebrate and honor its beauty, its power, and to be able to tell it well to my friends, my family and to you.” Readers who stick with the story—and there are a few longueurs—will be richly rewarded. Springsteen has lived well, even if he expresses a couple of regrets and, in a newsmaking episode, confesses to having suffered a long bout of depression at the age of 60. “The blues don’t jump right on you,” he writes, but jump they do. Nothing a pill can’t take care of, mind you, and when Springsteen rebounds, he does so with a joyous vengeance. Ardent students of his music might wish for a touch more depth in his account of his processes as songwriter and performer, but there’s plenty of that. In one of the scattered formulas that he tosses out, he allows that the math of rock ’n’ roll is an equation, thanks to the transport and bond between band and fan, through which “when the world is at its best, when we are at our best, when life feels fullest, one and one equals three.” That math may not bear close inspection, but Springsteen is foremost a fan, and nowhere more so than when he had a chance to play with rock gods Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, a fine and rousing moment in a book full of them. Springsteen is gentle with those who treated him poorly—and one imagines those “rah-rahs” of the Jersey Shore writhing in shame each day at the memory—but generous with love for friends and listeners alike.

A superb memoir by any standard, but one of the best to have been written by a rock star.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-4151-5

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2016

In her reporting, researching, and sharing, Boggs has performed a public service for those in a similar position—and for...

THE ART OF WAITING

ON FERTILITY, MEDICINE, AND MOTHERHOOD

So much more than a memoir about trying to conceive.

The situation in which Boggs (Mattaponi Queen, 2010) found herself has become increasingly common and is thus likely to resonate with a large readership. Having long put any thought of motherhood on hold—using birth control and focusing on her writing, career, husband, and the other priorities of a life without children—she figured that she would get pregnant when it was time. And when it was time, and then it seemed like time was running out, she couldn’t. A book about the author and her husband might have seen suspense build along with expenses, with new and different options explored as readers wonder whether all of this will result in a baby. But this deeply empathetic book is about more than one woman’s challenge; it’s about the whole scope of maternal urges, of how culture (and literature) treat the childless (or “childfree”), how biases against medical intervention serve to stigmatize those who need such expensive (and not always successful) assistance, and how complicated can be the decisions about whether to adopt rather than continuing to attempt to conceive, the moral dimensions of international adoption (and surrogates), the additional hurdles facing gay couples, and the seemingly arbitrary differences between states as to what procedures are covered and to what financial limit. While dropping a couple of offhand references early on to the fact that, yes, she became a mother, Boggs writes with considerable heart and engagement about the decisions that are so tough for so many. “Nothing about this experience had been what we expected when we thought of having children, or even when we first guessed that the road to parenthood might be a long one,” she reflects. “It was more uncomfortable and expensive than we imagined, and less private.”

In her reporting, researching, and sharing, Boggs has performed a public service for those in a similar position—and for anyone interested in the implications of parenthood or in a story well-told and deeply felt.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-55597-749-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

An intelligent, disturbing, and profoundly honest memoir.

BANDIT

A prizewinning poet's account of her convict father and the impact he had on his family.

Brodak (A Little Middle of the Night, 2009) was 7 the first time she stole from a store. Six years later, her father, Joseph, who was conceived in a German concentration camp, was arrested for robbing 11 banks in Michigan. Here, the author examines the tortured relationship she and her family had with her father. A gambling addict, Joseph lived life with greedy amorality. He was already married with children when he met Brodak's mother, but that did not stop him from starting a second family with her. Their relationship was a rocky one; they married and divorced twice. The second and final time they ended their union, Joseph took Brodak’s younger sister with him. While he treated her like a princess and spoiled her with fancy clothes and a Corvette, he sometimes sent the angry and confused teen back to Brodak and her mother “as punishment, or maybe to loose himself from her care during gambling binges.” During what would be the first of her father’s two jail sentences for bank robbery, the author became an expert shoplifter not because it was “good or cool” but because it was simply a way for her to make money. Later, she realized that it was really a way for her to work through the “pattern of theft that destroyed my family.” Brodak’s story is undeniably compelling, but what makes the book even more fascinating is her in-depth reflection on the gambling habit that drove her father into a life of crime. “Maybe gambling is a kind of wound-replay wound-fascination,” she writes, “because it’s so obviously unwise that it seems like self-harm.” An individual may feel empowered because of the choice involved; but for Brodak, gambling is really a form of self-harm that distracts from the hard business of living and maintaining healthy relationships.

An intelligent, disturbing, and profoundly honest memoir.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2563-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Black Cat/Grove

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

A poetic and moving chronicle of loss.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist

THE ICEBERG

A debut memoir about losing a husband to cancer.

In her riveting, harrowing chronicle, British artist and writer Coutts (Fine Art/Goldsmiths Coll.) recounts three years during which her husband, Independent chief art critic Tom Lubbock, succumbed to brain cancer. Lubbock’s own reflections on his illness appeared in that publication just two months before he died in January 2011. Coutts’ story, therefore, focuses less on her husband’s experience than on her own: as caretaker, mother to their irrepressible toddler son, and intermediary with friends, family, nurses, and doctors. Her immediate reactions were shock and fear. “We discover, or rather I do,” she writes, “that you cannot hold a state of fear for an extended time. Fear is a peak, not a plateau. Shock is a drug and at first it feels pure and elevated, yes. The unreal keeps all exalted.” But that exaltation quickly dissipated, and Coutts was left feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and, as time went on, angry. As Tom underwent two surgeries and repeated chemotherapy and radiation, she strove to make “an intellectual accommodation with death.” In emails to their many friends, which punctuate this poignant memoir, the couple admitted that the illness “affected us differently. It’s been a lot of strain for Marion, less so in some ways for Tom.” However, Tom’s upbeat personality only masked his obsession; he told Marion that he thought about his cancer all the time, “though,” she remarks, “you would never know it.” Tom eventually became physically weak, his mobility was compromised, he contracted pneumonia repeatedly, and convulsions recurred. Because the tumor was in the area of speech and language, it soon affected his ability to write and to communicate, and Coutts added to her tasks the frustrating job of interpreter. In the last months, when he was in pain, she could only guess “at its extent and urgency and guess what we can do to alleviate it.”

A poetic and moving chronicle of loss.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2460-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Black Cat/Grove

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

A potent memoir that rips open a most human heart.

A BODY, UNDONE

LIVING ON AFTER GREAT PAIN

One moment, she is on her bicycle; the next, she is on the ground, her life forever transformed by an accident that leaves her a quadriplegic.

Crosby, who still teaches part-time at Wesleyan University (English and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies) and has published scholarly works (The Ends of History: Victorians and “The Woman Question,” 1991), offers a painfully, even courageously candid memoir about her accident in 2003 and its aftermath. She says she has no memory of the moment when a branch caught in her front wheel and sent her hurtling to the ground, a collision that shattered her jaw and broke vertebrae, but she tells about her long period of rehab and the devotion of friends and, especially, of her lover, Janet. She occasionally returns to her pre-accident life to tell about her family—with special attention to her brother, Jeff, who suffered profoundly from multiple sclerosis and who died some years after her accident. The author notes the cruel unlikelihood that two siblings would become quadriplegic. Along the way, we hear about her growing awareness of her sexuality, of her great fondness for sex, her issues with alcohol, and of the active physical and intellectual life that she adored. She writes in wrenching detail about her constant pain, her bowels, her sex life, and her determination to craft a new way to live. She writes affectingly about the home-care professionals who have helped her, noting how much we all depend on them and how little we pay them. She uses poems by Emily Dickinson, William Blake, and a former student to illuminate her situation; she discusses the importance to her of George Eliot. Occasionally, she slips into academic-speak (quoting from various authorities), but it’s never for long and never enough to slow the emotional momentum she so carefully creates.

A potent memoir that rips open a most human heart.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4798-3353-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: New York Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

A startling debut from a haunted individual who wishes he had left Iraq earlier “with my soul intact.”

CONSEQUENCE

A MEMOIR

A candid and deeply unsettling account of the author’s work as a government contractor in Iraq charged with interrogating detainees in Baghdad, Fallujah, and Abu Ghraib.

A devout Presbyterian who grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, attended Gordon College, a Christian school, and earned a degree at Boston University, Pushcart Prize winner Fair enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1995 out of a desire to protect people. After learning Arabic, he was deployed to the Middle East as a linguist but found Army life monotonous. Torn by conflicting impulses (two psychologists deemed him unstable), he served briefly as a police officer but felt destined to become a minister. In 2003, he signed on as an interrogator with CACI International. The author relates his experiences in a low-key, matter-of-fact manner that nonetheless makes palpable his confusion about his life and goals. His disquiet became intolerable during his interrogations of Iraqi prisoners of war, which involved sleep deprivation, stress positions, isolation, and other forms of officially sanctioned torture. “I shouldn’t be here,” he writes. And: “I’ve done things that cannot be undone.” Feeling guilty and ashamed, Fair realized he had sinned: “There is to be no redemption for me in Iraq.” Eschewing abstract discussions of torture and the war, the author offers a beguiling personal narrative that forces readers to share his pain and uncertainty over his circumstances. “I cannot ask God to accompany me into the interrogation booth,” he writes. Told against the background of his failing heart (he required a transplant), his failing hometown (Bethlehem Steel went bankrupt), and his war-strained marriage, his affecting narrative points up the larger failures of interrogators like himself to prevent abusive acts and of the country to end its endorsement of torture. Fair recounts his drinking and horrible nightmares, friendships with fellow contractors, and encounters with Iraqis suspected of anti-coalition activities. Some sections of the book have been redacted.

A startling debut from a haunted individual who wishes he had left Iraq earlier “with my soul intact.”

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62779-513-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

A moving and penetrating inquiry into manifold struggles for identity, community, and authenticity.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

IN THE DARKROOM

A Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist investigates the “fluidity and binaries” of “modern transsexuality.”

In 2004, after hardly any contact with her father for 25 years, Faludi (The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post–9/11 America, 2007, etc.) received an email from her, announcing that she had undergone gender reassignment surgery in Thailand. Steven Faludi was now Stefánie. “I have decided that I have had enough of impersonating a macho aggressive man that I have never been inside,” she explained. Aggression is what her daughter remembered: Steven had been an “imperious patriarch, overbearing and autocratic” during the author's childhood. Now she reached out to her, inviting the author to write her story. The author’s discoveries about her elusive, mysterious, dissembling father are central to this gripping exploration of sexual, national, and ethnic identity. Steven grew up in Hungary in a wealthy Jewish family that owned two apartment houses. After World War I, when the nation lost more than half of its population and landmass in a peace agreement, anti-Semitism surged, intensifying during World War II. To save his parents from extermination, Steven impersonated a member of the violent Arrow Cross and led them to safety. Moving to Brazil and later to the United States, he married and had two children. He was roiled when his wife sued for divorce. “As both European Jew and American Dad,” the author writes, “my father’s manhood had been doubted, distorted, and besmirched.” “Now, as a woman, women like me more,” she said. A professional photographer deft at manipulating images, Stefánie proved just as deft in revising her biography, challenging Faludi to ferret out truths from her many lies. The writer communicated with relatives, her father’s few friends, and surgeon; transgender females, in interviews and memoirs, share their often disturbing life stories.

A moving and penetrating inquiry into manifold struggles for identity, community, and authenticity.

Pub Date: June 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8050-8908-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: April 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

A hearty, bittersweet familial chronicle of masculinity drawing on the underappreciated bond between fathers and sons.

THE HERO'S BODY

A MEMOIR

A loving son reflects on life with a brawny father whose premature death permanently transformed him.

AGNI fiction editor and New Republic contributing writer Giraldi (Hold the Dark, 2014, etc.) paints himself as an “earnestly unjockish” adolescent who looked up to his muscular father for direction, advice, and as the ultimate example of raw masculinity. Raised solely by his father in working-class, blue-collar Manville, New Jersey, the author writes earnestly about his closet affinity for classic literature and mounting frustration at his inability to measure up to his father’s macho image. Craving the “sacral creed” of masculinity that seemed to power the town (and his male-dominated family), a spontaneous visit to his uncle Tony’s makeshift workout room drastically altered his perspective, priorities, and physique. He eventually joined the hard-core training circuit culture at the Physical Edge gym, the local “sanctum of the gargantuan.” Bodybuilding became an “obsession that included brutalizing workouts, steroids, competitions, an absolute revamping of the self.” Thankfully, this hardened intensity doesn’t strip Giraldi’s memoir of its personality. His adventures with body shaving, maddening diet regimens, the “fetishizing pleasure” of hoarding steroids, and bodybuilding competitions all provide moments of wry humor and steely determination. His interest in bodybuilding deflated once the gym closed its doors and the author’s father sold the family home to move in with a girlfriend. Giraldi poignantly ponders his father as a man morphing through the decades from a levelheaded, reliable family man to a “harebrained...high-stakes gambler” and a devotee of treacherous motorcycle racing. His father experienced many nonfatal crashes, but one would take his life in 2000 at 47. The details of his tragedy become blurred with accusations and unsettled with inconclusiveness from an anterior-mounted camera inexplicably vanishing from the scene of the accident. Giraldi provides a respectful homage to his father, who died “attempting to be worthy of an ancient code,” but he also pays tribute to the working-class male and the unspoken codes of machismo.

A hearty, bittersweet familial chronicle of masculinity drawing on the underappreciated bond between fathers and sons.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-87140-666-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: May 8, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Critics Circle Winner

LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

A debut that enriches and extends the potential of graphic narrative.

FLYING COUCH

A GRAPHIC MEMOIR

An ambitious debut by a graphic artist whose work succeeds on multiple levels, both visually and in terms of the textual narrative.

Toward the end of what is billed as a graphic memoir, Kurzweil (Writing and Comics/Parson School of Design) reflects, “the women in my family have certain stories to tell. Why does it feel like I’m not the protagonist of my own life?” And she isn’t of her own memoir, at least through one of the predominant strains intertwining in this narrative of the relationships among three generations of women in one family. The most dramatic is the one she relates of a time even before she and her mother were born: she shares her Jewish grandmother’s story, in her Bubbe’s words, of escaping from the Nazis in the Warsaw ghetto, living among gentiles as an orphan, and then marrying a Jewish man and reclaiming her identity. The author’s story encompasses that of her grandmother and also the author’s mother, a psychotherapist from whom her frequently anxious daughter learned, “psychology is a container. It grows that which would go wild. It civilizes.” Thus her mother’s perspective and the typical mother-daughter tensions become integral to the author’s quest for identity. What kind of daughter is she? What kind of Jew? What kind of artist? The drawings are excellent, including maps that provide the psychological dimension of Kurzweil’s interior life, dreamscapes, and travels, including study abroad in Israel. She ultimately makes a life of her own in Brooklyn, as an artist, with a series of apartments, where “to order the objects of real life, the things I can feel and name, reminds me that my life is my own, and it has not, although it might seem otherwise, been pre-written.”

A debut that enriches and extends the potential of graphic narrative.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-936787-28-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Black Balloon Publishing

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

An honest, self-deprecating, and very moving account of a writer searching for herself in words.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

IN OTHER WORDS

In a perfectly titled memoir, the Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist chronicles her efforts to learn and write Italian.

Lahiri (The Lowland, 2013, etc.), who wrote and published her text in Italian in 2015, now presents an English translation (by Goldstein) with Italian and English on facing pages. For Lahiri, Italian was her third language—her mother spoke Bengali—and she relates in engaging detail the reasons she felt drawn to Italian, her many difficulties learning it, her struggles with writing, and her move to Rome to write. As she acknowledges near the end, and suggests elsewhere, her work is thick with metaphor; continually, she tries to find effective comparisons. A swim across a lake, an avalanche, a mountain-climb, a journey, a map, a bridge, maternity—these and numerous others describe her learning and her difficulties. A most affecting later chapter, “The Wall,” deals with a discomfort felt (and caused) by many: Lahiri doesn’t “look” Italian, so Romans and others treated her oddly, even insultingly, at times. She notes that similar experiences happened in the United States. Even though she’s known English since childhood—and has written award-winning novels in the language—some Americans look at her with a kind of mistrust. Lahiri does not ever get too detailed about the specifics of her learning, although there are paragraphs about vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. She is more interested in the effects of all of this on her writing and on her identity. Her memoir is also chockablock with memorable comments about writing and language. “Why do I write?” she asks. “To investigate the mystery of existence. To tolerate myself. To get closer to everything that is outside of me.” At the end, she returns to America but wonders if she will now write again in English.

An honest, self-deprecating, and very moving account of a writer searching for herself in words.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87555-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

An intelligent, evocative, and richly textured memoir.

RIVERINE

A MEMOIR FROM ANYWHERE BUT HERE

The haunting account of how the author tried to escape her rural Indiana past.

Ink + Lead Literary Services owner Palm (Please Do Not Remove: A Collection Celebrating Vermont Literature and Libraries, 2014) grew up in a community claimed from the waters of the Kankakee River, which had been rerouted to create farmland. Early on she realized that she was not like other blue-collar “rural folk” whose lives entwined with the land; rather, she was a “bookish fishergirl who longed for the social opportunities of a cookie-cutter subdivision.” Unable to move past the narrow confines of her social and physical isolation, Palm first sought refuge in religion. She experimented with both Christian and non-Christian faiths and belief systems; eventually, meditation became her one reliable way “out of that riverbed.” While the author embraced the power of her mind and imagination to rise above an existence measured by cycles of flood and drought, fellow outsider—and secret object of desire—Corey sank into the “rot” of riverine life by “rejecting school and authority” and becoming a convicted murderer. Deeply troubled by Corey’s descent into criminality but determined to break free of the muddy quicksand of river life, Palm, whose own uncle had been imprisoned for attempted murder, went to college and studied criminal justice. Her path took her first to Indianapolis and then, after marriage, to Vermont. Yet despite the distance she put between her riverbed upbringing and the trauma of Corey’s lifetime incarceration, both remained with her. Only after she was able to return to Indiana to visit Corey in prison could she make peace with her past and a heart that, according to her corresponding palm line, looked like “an aerial cartography of the river where we grew up.” Densely symbolic, unsentimental, and eloquent, Palm’s book explores the connections between yearning, desire, and homecoming with subtlety and lucidity. The result is a narrative that maps the complex relationships that exist between individual identity and place.

An intelligent, evocative, and richly textured memoir.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-55597-746-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: May 25, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

Beautifully written, at just the right emotional pitch. Of interest to all readers but likely to find a home among bereaved...

POOR YOUR SOUL

An unexpectedly hopeful, but never mawkish, tale of love and loss.

The literature on death is vast, that on the grieving process somewhat smaller, that concerning teratology—in the grimly archaic language of medicine, the birth of “monsters”—smaller still. With grace and compassion, Ptacin describes the roller-coaster plunge from cautious elation to profound sorrow as romance (“We fell in love. Exposed kneecaps and collarbones, and entire evenings spent devouring one another; we were like wild forces”) yielded to pregnancy. Then pregnancy became ever fraught as the first “abnormal” tests began to come in: “I thought maybe it was my fault,” the author writes of the first iffy report, “maybe I forgot to take my folic acid one morning, maybe I was too stressed and cantankerous and it was poisonous to the baby.” After reeling off a list of deformities—spina bifida, clubbed feet, irregular heartbeat, lack of brain development—the doctor asked whether Ptacin still wanted to know the sex of her baby. The question then became what to do, how to reconcile modern medicine and the health of the mother with Catholic doctrine and the beliefs that she, her beloved, and her family held—not to mention the opinions of those with no stake in the matter. “If I choose to terminate,” she writes, “I’ll be what the pro-lifers hate.” Her choice is heartbreaking and shattering, and it makes for difficult reading; in the end, Ptacin suggests, there is nothing to say, only acknowledgment that something terrible has happened and the need to summon the will to go on. In all this, the author’s Polish-immigrant mother emerges as a wise counselor and moral anchor: “Poor baby. Poor her soul. It is very sad,” she said, and that is just right. But Ptacin herself, who is neither heroic nor helpless, also rises in our estimation, even as she sinks in her grief.

Beautifully written, at just the right emotional pitch. Of interest to all readers but likely to find a home among bereaved mothers.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61695-634-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: Dec. 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

A richly detailed and always engaging memoir on artistic discovery.

ALL TOMORROW'S PARTIES

A MEMOIR

The lively debut memoir by a Tin House magazine co-founding editor about growing up in West Berlin then returning as an adult to post–Soviet-era East Berlin to find artistic purpose.

In 1964, Spillman’s parents went to Berlin on Fulbright scholarships to study music. When they separated a few years later, they decided that their small son would live with his closeted gay father. Surrounded by reminders of the Cold War—such as the Berlin Wall and a “giant U.S. Army base”—Spillman became immersed in a colorfully creative world of artists who hailed from all over the world. He and his father left only after the latter accepted a teaching position at the Eastman School of Music in New York. A perpetual outsider who felt at home nowhere, Spillman “read…to escape…but also to find myself,” especially after he went to live with his mother in Baltimore. During this period, the author also took up running and experimented with drugs. On the way to figuring out that he wanted to write, Spillman failed out of college once before finishing and survived three major car crashes. In New York City, he met his future wife, Elissa, and embarked on Kerouac-esque travel adventures in the U.S., Portugal, and then the former East Berlin, which had become a “petri dish of creation and foment, a rubble field in which to create a new life with the woman I loved.” Yet for all its familiarity, flaws, and youthful energy, the city never completely felt like home to Spillman, who decided to stop running away from himself and his life only after a brush with near tragedy. Musically and culturally astute, this well-structured book is a delightful coming-of-age story couched within a travel narrative that deftly evokes one of the major historical moments of the 20th century.

A richly detailed and always engaging memoir on artistic discovery.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2483-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

A sharp, provocative memoir of an unlikely friendship.

BULLIES

A FRIENDSHIP

A journalist’s account of his friendship with a man who was not only president of a motorcycle group, but also the boy who bullied him during childhood.

Abramovich met Trevor Latham, president of the East Bay Rats Motorcycle Club, when the two were fourth-graders growing up on Long Island. They often fought in the schoolyard, but as children from dysfunctional, single-parent homes, both boys also had a deep affinity for each other. Their contact ended when Abramovich moved with his often jobless father in sixth grade. It was not until years later that he reconnected with Trevor, who now lived in Oakland. On an assignment for GQ to do a story about their friendship, the author traveled from New York to experience Trevor’s blue-collar world of motorcycles and “systemized” violence. Once back in New York, however, the story would not let him go. So Abramovich returned to Oakland to work on a book about Trevor and the Rats, and a six-month visit eventually turned into a four-year stay. His investigations led him to explore Oakland’s history, from its origins as bucolic California land grant territory to its evolution into one of the most crime-infested cities in America. He also learned about the tortured history of the Rats and witnessed the bloody infighting that threatened to tear the group apart. Research eventually revealed that before films like Stanley Kramer’s The Wild One (1953) celebrated an underground subculture of leather and machismo, motorcycle associations in America had been called “sweater clubs” and had attracted the likes of Clark Gable and Barbara Stanwyck. Thoughtful and engaging, Abramovich’s book suggests an intricate connection between an especially violent city and the “cracked, broken homes” that constitute them. Those homes ultimately give rise to “cracked, broken” children—like the author and Trevor—who seek makeshift families like the Rats or other gangs and take a “casual acceptance of bloodshed” as the status quo.

A sharp, provocative memoir of an unlikely friendship.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9428-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Nov. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

An unusually timely and deeply affecting view of a social class whose health and economic problems are making headlines in...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    finalist

  • New York Times Bestseller

HILLBILLY ELEGY

A MEMOIR OF A FAMILY AND CULTURE IN CRISIS

A Yale Law School graduate’s account of his traumatic hillbilly childhood and the plight of America’s angry white working class.

“Americans call them hillbillies, rednecks, or white trash,” writes Vance, a biotech executive and National Review contributor. “I call them neighbors, friends, and family.” In this understated, engaging debut, the author reflects on his stormy journey from the coal-country Kentucky hollers of Appalachia to the declining Rust Belt to life among the Ivy League–educated elite. Born into a poor Scots-Irish family—with a pill-addicted mother and “revolving door of father figures”—Vance was raised in Ohio by his beloved and newly middle-class grandparents, hardworking believers in the American dream who married in their teens and never shook the trappings (abuse, addiction, and constant fighting and screaming) of their native Kentucky’s hillbilly culture. Mamaw, his grandmother, once set her husband on fire when he came home drunk; Papaw, a violent grouch, tossed a Christmas tree out the back door. In scenes at once harrowing and hilarious, we come to know these loud, rowdy gun-toters as the loyal and loving family whose encouragement helped the author endure “decades of chaos and heartbreak.” In the Marines and at Yale, Vance learned to make responsible adult choices and overcame the learned helplessness that characterizes many in the working class. Pointedly identifying the cynicism and willingness to blame others endemic among that class, he describes the complex malaise—involving sociology, psychology, community, culture, and faith—that has left so many bereft of connections and social support and unable to find high-quality work. The solution, he believes, is not government action but in people asking themselves “what we can do to make things better.” Declaring that he survived with the help of caring family and friends, he writes, “I am one lucky son of a bitch.”

An unusually timely and deeply affecting view of a social class whose health and economic problems are making headlines in this election year.

Pub Date: June 28, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-230054-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

More Book Lists

The Magazine: Kirkus Reviews

Jenn Shapland reclaims a queer icon in My Autobiography of Carson McCullers.

subscribe
  • The Kirkus Star

    One of the most coveted designations in the book industry, the Kirkus Star marks books of exceptional merit.

  • The Kirkus Prize

    The Kirkus Prize is among the richest literary awards in America, awarding $50,000 in three categories annually.

    See the 2019 winners.

Great Books & News Curated For You

Be the first to read books news and see reviews, news and features in Kirkus Reviews. Get awesome content delivered to your inbox every week.

Thank you!

Looks good !! Please provide a valid email.