A touching, heartfelt, and amusing book that provides a wonderful personal perspective on a period of historical and...

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THE NEWSPAPER BOY

COMING OF AGE IN BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA DURING THE CIVIL RIGHTS ERA

A white Southerner describes his teenage journey to racial tolerance in this debut coming-of-age autobiography.

Attorney Isom grew up and attended college during the 1950s and ’60s in Birmingham, Alabama—a city that was home to some of the most notorious racism of the civil rights era, peaking in 1963 with Commissioner of Public Safety Bull Connor’s violent enforcement of segregation and a church bombing that killed four black children. That backdrop makes Isom’s personal story even more remarkable. As a teenager, he was fired up by the racist views of his society, particularly those of famous segregationist and Klansman Asa Carter, after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. However, he was slowly swayed the opposite way by the kindness and “question everything” philosophy of the Millers, two Yankee transplants on his paper route. It’s an iconic, real-life struggle, as Isom made a moral choice between the devil and the angel on his shoulders. His memoir also features an intriguing subplot regarding his father, Hewlett Chervis Isom Sr., a kind man who was once sickened by having to kill a chicken for dinner; he questioned his own prejudice, too, like his son, but he couldn’t quite make the leap that the author did. Some passages will flesh out readers’ understanding of bus segregation by detailing the elder Isom’s experiences as a Greyhound driver. One tends to think that Rosa Parks protested, African-Americans boycotted, and bus segregation ended—but readers soon learn that the reality was more complicated than that. Other childhood memories, unrelated to Isom’s internal struggles, will also keep readers’ attention, such as a time on his paper route when he encountered a customer that would make Blanche DuBois seem like a model subscriber.

A touching, heartfelt, and amusing book that provides a wonderful personal perspective on a period of historical and cultural change.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-940524-03-0

Page Count: 359

Publisher: The Working Writers

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

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SLEEPERS

An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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Erudite writing from an author struggling to find meaning through music.

THEY CAN'T KILL US UNTIL THEY KILL US

An Ohio-based poet, columnist, and music critic takes the pulse of the nation while absorbing some of today’s most eclectic beats.

At first glance, discovering deep meaning in the performance of top-40 songstress Carly Rae Jepsen might seem like a tough assignment. However, Abdurraqib (The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, 2016) does more than just manage it; he dives in fully, uncovering aspects of love and adoration that are as illuminating and earnest as they are powerful and profound. If he can do that with Jepsen's pop, imagine what the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Prince, or Nina Simone might stir in him. But as iconic as those artists may be, the subjects found in these essays often serve to invoke deeper forays into the worlds surrounding the artists as much as the artists themselves. Although the author is interested in the success and appeal of The Weeknd or Chance the Rapper, he is also equally—if not more—intrigued with the sociopolitical and existential issues that they each managed to evoke in present-day America. In witnessing Zoe Saldana’s 2016 portrayal of Simone, for instance, Abdurraqib thinks back to his own childhood playing on the floor of his family home absorbing the powerful emotions caused by his mother’s 1964 recording of “Nina Simone in Concert”—and remembering the relentlessly stigmatized soul who, unlike Saldana, could not wash off her blackness at the end of the day. In listening to Springsteen, the author is reminded of the death of Michael Brown and how “the idea of hard, beautiful, romantic work is a dream sold a lot easier by someone who currently knows where their next meal is coming from.” In all of Abdurraqib’s poetic essays, there is the artist, the work, the nation, and himself. The author effortlessly navigates among these many points before ultimately arriving at conclusions that are sometimes hopeful, often sorrowful, and always visceral.

Erudite writing from an author struggling to find meaning through music.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-937512-65-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Two Dollar Radio

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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