Considering her youthfulness, Barnett has accomplished more reform than most individuals could accomplish in two lifetimes.

A KNOCK AT MIDNIGHT

A STORY OF HOPE, JUSTICE, AND FREEDOM

A welcome new addition to the groaning shelves of books about the critically flawed U.S. legal system.

For the first 90 pages, Barnett, born in 1984, focuses on her youth as a Black female in rural East Texas whose drug-addicted mother ended up in prison. In the remainder of the book, the author mixes straightforward memoir with inspiring accounts of her crusades for social justice. Determined to avoid her mother’s fate, Barnett worked diligently to graduate from college, after which she found work at a top accounting firm and then earned a law degree. The author is painfully aware of the racism built into the criminal justice system, including the absurd prison terms handed down to Black drug users and dealers—the most egregious being “the 100-to-1 crack-to-powder-cocaine sentencing ratio.” Though corporate law was her initial goal, while studying for a criminal law course, Barnett learned about Sharanda Jones, who had received a life sentence for a first-time drug offense. The author poignantly writes about how she was able to identify with families torn apart by such heavy-handed sentences. After obtaining a job in the finance and banking group of a corporate law firm in 2011, Barnett devoted her spare time to advocacy. She hoped to win the release of Jones and others in similar situations through reversals in the appellate courts. When that avenue failed, the author decided that seeking clemency from the president was the only option, no matter the long odds—especially given Barack Obama’s general reluctance to grant pardons. Eventually, however, Obama granted clemency to Jones and other pro bono clients of Barnett’s. In 2016, the author left her corporate career to follow her passion for representing “all those suffering under draconian drug-sentencing laws.” Among her impressive not-for-profit initiatives are the Buried Alive Project and the Girls Embracing Mothers project.

Considering her youthfulness, Barnett has accomplished more reform than most individuals could accomplish in two lifetimes.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2578-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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If that promise of clarity is what awaits us all, then death doesn’t seem so awful, and that is a great gift from Sacks. A...

GRATITUDE

Valediction from the late neurologist and writer Sacks (On the Move: A Life, 2015, etc.).

In this set of four short essays, much-forwarded opinion pieces from the New York Times, the author ponders illness, specifically the metastatic cancer that spread from eye to liver and in doing so foreclosed any possibility of treatment. His brief reflections on that unfortunate development give way to, yes, gratitude as he examines the good things that he has experienced over what, in the end, turned out to be a rather long life after all, lasting 82 years. To be sure, Sacks has regrets about leaving the world, not least of them not being around to see “a thousand…breakthroughs in the physical and biological sciences,” as well as the night sky sprinkled with stars and the yellow legal pads on which he worked sprinkled with words. Sacks works a few familiar tropes and elaborates others. Charmingly, he reflects on his habit since childhood of associating each year of his life with the element of corresponding atomic weight on the periodic table; given polonium’s “intense, murderous radioactivity,” then perhaps 84 isn’t all that it’s cut out to be. There are some glaring repetitions here, unfortunate given the intense brevity of this book, such as his twice citing Nathaniel Hawthorne’s call to revel in “intercourse with the world”—no, not that kind. Yet his thoughts overall—while not as soul-stirringly inspirational as the similar reflections of Randy Pausch or as bent on chasing down the story as Christopher Hitchens’ last book—are shaped into an austere beauty, as when Sacks writes of being able in his final moments to “see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts.”

If that promise of clarity is what awaits us all, then death doesn’t seem so awful, and that is a great gift from Sacks. A fitting, lovely farewell.

Pub Date: Nov. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-451-49293-7

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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A unique, inspiring story by a member of the Greatest Generation.

CODE TALKER

A firsthand account of how the Navajo language was used to help defeat the Japanese in World War II.

At the age of 17, Nez (an English name assigned to him in kindergarten) volunteered for the Marines just months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Growing up in a traditional Navajo community, he became fluent in English, his second language, in government-run boarding schools. The author writes that he wanted to serve his country and explore “the possibilities and opportunities offered out there in the larger world.” Because he was bilingual, he was one of the original 29 “code talkers” selected to develop a secret, unbreakable code based on the Navajo language, which was to be used for battlefield military communications on the Pacific front. Because the Navajo language is tonal and unwritten, it is extremely difficult for a non-native speaker to learn. The code created an alphabet based on English words such as ant for “A,” which were then translated into its Navajo equivalent. On the battlefield, Navajo code talkers would use voice transmissions over the radio, spoken in Navajo to convey secret information. Nez writes movingly about the hard-fought battles waged by the Marines to recapture Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and others, in which he and his fellow code talkers played a crucial role. He situates his wartime experiences in the context of his life before the war, growing up on a sheep farm, and after when he worked for the VA and raised a family in New Mexico. Although he had hoped to make his family proud of his wartime role, until 1968 the code was classified and he was sworn to silence. He sums up his life “as better than he could ever have expected,” and looks back with pride on the part he played in “a new, triumphant oral and written [Navajo] tradition,” his culture's contribution to victory.

A unique, inspiring story by a member of the Greatest Generation.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-425-24423-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dutton Caliber

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2011

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