A sometimes-sad yet stirring love letter to San Francisco filled with profundity and pride.

The unheralded story of San Francisco’s trailblazing “Brownie Lady” plays out across more than 20 tumultuous years of the city’s often tragic history.

Volz’s mother, Meridy, and father, Doug, may have been complicated people, attempting to build a family during chaotic times in the Bay Area, but they were especially well suited to create and dispense delicious baked goodies heavily laced with palliative marijuana. By simple virtue of her birth, the author became an “accomplice” in Sticky Fingers Brownies, the family business that at one time was cranking out more than 10,000 brownies per month. The experience of accompanying Meridy on perilous brownie runs throughout the city in the 1970s and ’80s, when growing a single marijuana plant was a felony offense in California, made Volz an eyewitness to an unprecedented revolution in American culture that continues to reverberate today. The author combines a journalist’s eye for detail with a storyteller’s sense of humanity to chronicle all the incredible highs and lows, both public and private. The dissolution of her parents’ relationship dovetails with San Francisco’s more public trauma, including the Jonestown Massacre, the assassination of Harvey Milk, and the outbreak of AIDS. “Faced with bureaucratic rigidity, people with AIDS broke the law to self-medicate with cannabis,” writes Volz. “Dealers became healers." Sticky Fingers may have started off as a goofy piece of psychedelia wrapped up in tight, little squares, but the business soon became indispensable in providing necessary relief for stricken young men who were inexplicably wasting away from a little-understood disease while still only in their 20s and 30s. The author’s firsthand depiction of AIDS and its devastating initial impact on San Francisco’s residents rings with epic tragedy. Thankfully, there are plenty of triumphs in the Sticky Fingers saga as well, and Volz herself embodies just one of them.

A sometimes-sad yet stirring love letter to San Francisco filled with profundity and pride.

Pub Date: April 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-358-00609-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Jan. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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