A powerful, idiosyncratic account that uses letters as a microscope for grief.


In this memoir, a woman mourns her sister through unsent letters to loved ones and celebrities.

The death of her sister, Carol, shook Sternbach to the core. It caused a rift in the family that left the author estranged from another sister as well as Carol’s wife. At the insistence of her husband, the depressed Sternbach went to speak to a therapist. The doctor, who was dying of cancer, the same disease that had taken Carol, gave the author a homework assignment: “Who, he wanted to know, had added to my life. Not just the obvious choices, he said, but those who have helped shape me, guide me in unexpected ways. ‘What would you say to them if you could?’ he asked. ‘What would you say to Carol?’ ” Sternbach set about writing letters of gratitude to the people—intimates and strangers, living and dead—who had helped buoy her over the years, starting with Vermeer. A copy of the artist’s famous painting Girl With a Pearl Earring hung in her therapist’s office. The author wrote to Goldie Hawn to thank her for the movie Butterflies Are Free, which played on the first airline trip of Sternbach’s career as a flight attendant. The author wrote to Leonard Cohen, whose music she listened to on the drive to visit her mother in a nursing home. She wrote to controversial figures like O.J. Simpson, fictional characters like Carrie Bradshaw, and, of course, to Carol, attempting to make sense of her loss and what it meant for Sternbach moving forward. The author’s prose veers from rueful and vulnerable to bouncy and wry, as here in her letter to Woody Allen, whose controversial marriage to Soon-Yi Previn was somewhat similar to Sternbach’s father’s marriage to his ex-wife’s niece. “Oh, dear Woody,” writes the author, “you have made me feel as if I am not the only person on the planet with a colorful family history. I thank you for that.” This is an odd book, with the memoiristic fan letters sitting uneasily beside the mournful missives to Carol. Perhaps because of this, the sneaky way the work builds toward its moment of catharsis is all the more potent.

A powerful, idiosyncratic account that uses letters as a microscope for grief.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-953469-98-4

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Unruly

Review Posted Online: March 23, 2022

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A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.


A former New York City dancer reflects on her zesty heyday in the 1970s.

Discovered on a Manhattan street in 2020 and introduced on Stanton’s Humans of New York Instagram page, Johnson, then 76, shares her dynamic history as a “fiercely independent” Black burlesque dancer who used the stage name Tanqueray and became a celebrated fixture in midtown adult theaters. “I was the only black girl making white girl money,” she boasts, telling a vibrant story about sex and struggle in a bygone era. Frank and unapologetic, Johnson vividly captures aspects of her former life as a stage seductress shimmying to blues tracks during 18-minute sets or sewing lingerie for plus-sized dancers. Though her work was far from the Broadway shows she dreamed about, it eventually became all about the nightly hustle to simply survive. Her anecdotes are humorous, heartfelt, and supremely captivating, recounted with the passion of a true survivor and the acerbic wit of a weathered, street-wise New Yorker. She shares stories of growing up in an abusive household in Albany in the 1940s, a teenage pregnancy, and prison time for robbery as nonchalantly as she recalls selling rhinestone G-strings to prostitutes to make them sparkle in the headlights of passing cars. Complemented by an array of revealing personal photographs, the narrative alternates between heartfelt nostalgia about the seedier side of Manhattan’s go-go scene and funny quips about her unconventional stage performances. Encounters with a variety of hardworking dancers, drag queens, and pimps, plus an account of the complexities of a first love with a drug-addled hustler, fill out the memoir with personality and candor. With a narrative assist from Stanton, the result is a consistently titillating and often moving story of human struggle as well as an insider glimpse into the days when Times Square was considered the Big Apple’s gloriously unpolished underbelly. The book also includes Yee’s lush watercolor illustrations.

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-27827-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2022

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The heartbreaking story of an emotionally battered child delivered with captivating candor and grace.

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The former iCarly star reflects on her difficult childhood.

In her debut memoir, titled after her 2020 one-woman show, singer and actor McCurdy (b. 1992) reveals the raw details of what she describes as years of emotional abuse at the hands of her demanding, emotionally unstable stage mom, Debra. Born in Los Angeles, the author, along with three older brothers, grew up in a home controlled by her mother. When McCurdy was 3, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Though she initially survived, the disease’s recurrence would ultimately take her life when the author was 21. McCurdy candidly reconstructs those in-between years, showing how “my mom emotionally, mentally, and physically abused me in ways that will forever impact me.” Insistent on molding her only daughter into “Mommy’s little actress,” Debra shuffled her to auditions beginning at age 6. As she matured and starting booking acting gigs, McCurdy remained “desperate to impress Mom,” while Debra became increasingly obsessive about her daughter’s physical appearance. She tinted her daughter’s eyelashes, whitened her teeth, enforced a tightly monitored regimen of “calorie restriction,” and performed regular genital exams on her as a teenager. Eventually, the author grew understandably resentful and tried to distance herself from her mother. As a young celebrity, however, McCurdy became vulnerable to eating disorders, alcohol addiction, self-loathing, and unstable relationships. Throughout the book, she honestly portrays Debra’s cruel perfectionist personality and abusive behavior patterns, showing a woman who could get enraged by everything from crooked eyeliner to spilled milk. At the same time, McCurdy exhibits compassion for her deeply flawed mother. Late in the book, she shares a crushing secret her father revealed to her as an adult. While McCurdy didn’t emerge from her childhood unscathed, she’s managed to spin her harrowing experience into a sold-out stage act and achieve a form of catharsis that puts her mind, body, and acting career at peace.

The heartbreaking story of an emotionally battered child delivered with captivating candor and grace.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-982185-82-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2022

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