An insightful, openhearted memoir about brutality in many forms.

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ALL THE SILENT SPACES

Ristaino (Italian/Emory Univ.) shares a story of trauma and recovery in this debut remembrance.

On a September day in 2007, the author was entering a store from a parking lot with her two young children when their bulky, Cinderella-themed shopping cart got stuck on a curb. A man walked over, and Ristaino assumed that he meant to help her lift the cart. However, without warning, he instead launched into a violent attack against the shocked woman, injuring her jaw, shoulder, and eye. The assault changed the way that the author thought about stories that she’d heard from other women, who’d also been attacked: “Overnight, I was a member of a community,” she writes. “Stories tumbled into my pathway, one after another.” It wasn’t just other people’s experiences that engaged her, however: The assault and her attempts to write about it also awakened long-dormant memories of other events, including a molestation when she was 9 and a rape when she was in college. This book acts as a sort of trauma diary, documenting the aftermath of the 2007 attack as Ristaino attempted to deal with her new feelings of fear and weakness—as well as those of her children, who witnessed the assault. She also confronted a range of reactions of others—some racist (from white acquaintances who assumed that her attacker was black), some unsympathetic, and many simply tone-deaf—as well as alarming statistics regarding attacks on women. In addition, she began to seek closure on the earlier traumas in her life—particularly the molestation, which happened at the hands of someone close to her family whose identity she was too terrified to reveal. Ristaino writes in a clipped, controlled prose style that imparts a stark atmosphere to the work. When she tells of being concerned about leaving her kids alone with an adult acquaintance, she writes, “ ‘It has nothing to do with you. It’s my problem,’ I say. ‘I was molested as a child. So I never allow Ada to go to a house unless there are two adults there.’ He looks at me, confused, perhaps stunned.” The memoir is structured in short, incidental chapters, interspersed with brief memories that start at the attack and work backward. The chapters explore various areas of the author’s life; some are related closely to the assault (a memory of teaching her children what to do if someone tries to touch them), and others less directly linked (an analysis of the author’s relationship to her Italian heritage). She manages to weave in many relevant issues of the time period, as well, as when she tells of her extended-family members discussing Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s controversial 2009 arrest. The result is a swirling examination of many of the elements that can factor into violence in America, but it’s also a portrait of one woman’s experiences with such violence, and how she managed to find a way to avoid being destroyed by it.

An insightful, openhearted memoir about brutality in many forms.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63152-569-8

Page Count: 280

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2019

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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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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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