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JELL-O GIRLS

A FAMILY HISTORY

A book brimming with intelligence and compassion.

Rowbottom chronicles her relationship to a legendary American food brand and the dark underside of its history.

Jell-O was the author’s “birthright.” Purchased by her mother’s great-great-great-uncle in 1899 for $450, the company was sold for $67 million two decades later. Jell-O gave the maternal side of Rowbottom's family unprecedented access to money, privilege, and power. At the same time, the wealth also seemed to bring family members “all manner of…misfortune,” including alcoholism, cancer, and suicide. Her mother, Mary, believed that her own problems and health crises had come about as a result of this family curse, so she “rarely ate the stuff.” The author begins the story with her grandmother Midge, who dreamed of becoming a journalist but instead found herself saddled with a traditional family life—which Jell-O celebrated in its many advertisements—that left her feeling unfulfilled. Growing up during the 1950s and ’60s, her daughter Mary longed for life as an artist. However, the pressures for her to conform to traditional female roles ate away at her resolve, pushed her into a series of unhealthy relationships, and destroyed her well-being. Determined to understand both the Jell-O curse and her mother’s emotionally fraught past, Rowbottom researched not only her family’s troubled history, but also the history of Jell-O itself. She looked at how ad campaigns throughout the 20th century used Jell-O to prop up ideals of womanhood that either enforced ideas about women as domestic caretakers or made them feel guilty about “careers outside the home.” The author also explores the medically inexplicable ailments that not only befell her mother, but also—as late as 2011— young girls living in LeRoy, New York, the birthplace of Jell-O. Rowbottom delivers a moving memoir of a daughter seeking to understand her mother, family, and the place of women in American society, and the narrative also serves as a thoughtful, up-close-and-personal feminist critique of a cultural icon.

A book brimming with intelligence and compassion.

Pub Date: July 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-51061-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: April 10, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Awards & Accolades

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  • Kirkus Reviews'
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  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist


  • National Book Award Winner

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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NIGHT

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

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