A stark, honest book that reads like a writer’s apprenticeship amid harrowing circumstances.

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WILL & I

A MEMOIR

A tragic accident gives birth to a writer.

Before the car crash that almost killed him, Narrative Magazine assistant editor Byars was a college student from a Southern family that included his identical twin brother, Will. This memoir of recovery against considerable odds traces the relationship between the brothers, their innate closeness, and what changed after the accident and what didn’t, but Will doesn’t figure nearly as prominently throughout as the title would seem to suggest. In much of the first half, the author seems to be trying to figure out just what is his story and how best to tell it. The crash in which he was a passenger threatened to kill him and initially seemed likely to paralyze him, and then he suffered post-surgical complications so severe that the doctors predicted he wouldn’t survive for more than one week. Byars beat the odds in terms of both survival and physical mobility, but he still faced a long road to what would never be all the way back. He had to relearn how to talk and to figure out how to get around on his own. And he was on his own a lot, partly by choice (“I only knew what I didn’t want to do: anything to do with stagnation. My parents seemed content with my doing nothing”) but also partly because others his age, particularly potential romantic partners, didn’t quite know how to deal with someone whose body had suffered so much. “My brain felt like the least damaged part of my body,” he writes. “It was painfully undamaged.” Despite occasional wishes that he had somehow forgotten who he had been or the extent of his predicament, his memoir is remarkably free of sentimentality or self-pity. He found both an outlet and a vocation in his writing, and he had to come to terms with the loss of those who had been prepared to lose him.

A stark, honest book that reads like a writer’s apprenticeship amid harrowing circumstances.

Pub Date: June 21, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-29028-3

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

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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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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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