A wise, unflinching memoir that candidly discusses an underappreciated segment of the American citizenry.

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MADNESS

IN THE TRENCHES OF AMERICA’S TROUBLED DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

Plate (Secret Police, 1981) recollects her profoundly challenging career as a social worker serving homeless and drug-addicted veterans. 

The author writes that she’d never planned to work with veterans; in fact, she took pride in being a “Red Diaper” baby who’d vehemently protested the Vietnam War as an adult. Nevertheless, after she earned a master’s degree in public policy and social work from the University of California, Los Angeles, she was assigned by a temp agency in 2002 to the West Los Angeles branch of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to work with homeless veterans who were struggling with substance abuse problems. It was a post that, in various iterations, she held for nearly 15 years, until 2017. Plate’s account skillfully combines personal memoir with institutional analysis; they strikingly dovetail when the dysfunctions of “America’s largest integrated healthcare system” compel her to become a witness to human suffering. She vividly recounts the grim challenges of working with a beleaguered population that was prone to violence and often desperate, alienated, and haunted by the trauma of war. She experienced sexual harassment—she notes that she was “fair (and easy) game” for the largely male group of patients—and was falsely accused of it, as well, she says. Despite these professional pitfalls, she found deep fulfillment in her work, and she movingly describes the experience in these pages: “For all the travails, I found an immeasurable richness in being of service to veterans,” she says. “Every day, I disappeared into the lives of others, blanketed by their anger and pain, unswervingly focused on getting veterans through the day, hidden deep within the barracks, away from civilian life.”

The author provides an astute account of various treatment strategies and their evolution over time as well as the impact of shifting public policy from one presidential administration to the next. She also incisively details how unempirical idealism can be the enemy of sound strategy, noting how “policy wonks in Washington” can be “divorced from reality.” In fact, she tells of how she grappled often with idealism herself—specifically, an unfounded conceit that she could always repair the damage done to her patients: “I would feel the urge to make him better—feed him, introduce him to friends….But feelings of this nature are unhealthy. They cloud your clinical objectivity. You have to be aware of them, then fight them off.” Plate focuses more on the “zany passion and persistence of social workers serving veterans” and on the “crushing pain but astounding resilience of veterans who come to them for help.” She affectingly relates the plights of many veterans who were struggling to keep their heads above water and how their number only increased as the nation simultaneously sustained two wars. Plate’s remembrance is as endearing as it is tough, offering a poignant but unsentimental look at an underserved group of Americans and the people trying to help them save themselves. 

A wise, unflinching memoir that candidly discusses an underappreciated segment of the American citizenry. 

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-981-4841-86-3

Page Count: 233

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish International (Asia) Pte Ltd

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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