A slim, lyrically evocative memoir.

A haunting debut memoir about the price of keeping secrets in small-town, Rust Belt America.

Mercury, Pennsylvania, had once been a thriving, vigorous city. But when Burns grew up there during the aftermath of “the Steel Apocalypse” that began in the late 1960s, life moved at a “barely detectable” pace. In 1991, the town suddenly emerged from its “waking sleep” to confront the shocking reality that a beloved piano teacher had been fondling his young female students. As a 10-year-old, Burns was one of the victims. Yet she chose to lie about the molestation because in Mercury, “a girl [couldn’t] escape her reputation,” and the seven girls who told the truth had faced devastating consequences. But silence had its own costs. Burns' capacity to love during adolescence became stunted by fear. She could not fully open her heart to a boy because her trust had been violated. Further, love also had the potential to root her to a town that she loved but desperately wanted to escape. Any relationships she did form were with “safe” boys, like those from her church or with those for whom love was a performance, much like the ones she gave on stage in high school drama productions. Her unquiet conscience never let her forget the fellow victims she had betrayed through her silence. In an ironic twist, Burns became one of seven homecoming princesses, girls as pure as new-made steel who had the love and approval of Mercury. But as she discovered, getting everything she wanted was “dirty business.” Only by leaving that world built by coal and iron and now foundering in its own ashes could she begin her process of purification through the written word.

A slim, lyrically evocative memoir.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-3703-4

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014


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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