A disjointed structure occasionally hobbles this swiftly written life story of music, forgiveness, and resilience.

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SING FOR YOUR LIFE

A STORY OF RACE, MUSIC, AND FAMILY

The biography of an emerging African-American opera singer who overcame a tough Southern childhood.

New York Times Magazine contributor Bergner (What Do Women Want?: Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, 2013, etc.) details the life of Ryan Speedo Green, who rose to performance prominence after a harrowing childhood in southeastern Virginia. Described as a physically imposing figure at 6 feet 5 inches and over 300 pounds, Green grew up with little adolescent ambition, raised by a largely absent part-Seminole bodybuilder father and an Air Force veteran mother who grew as abusive and violent to her children as her own romantic partners were to her. Life in their low-income housing project became troublesome for the young, increasingly uncontrollable Green, who, at age 12, pulled a knife on his brother and his mother and was sent to a juvenile detention facility. During his high school years, the family lived in similar squalor, but as Green was steered toward chorus classes to obtain easy high school credits, he ended up uncovering his truest voice. Bergner captures the essence of his subject’s desperate childhood even though Green terminated many interviews due to the still-palpable pain and misery of his past. Running alongside Green’s childhood is the story of his more recent ascent up the ranks of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions competition; the author spotlights both the struggles and the triumphs associated with Green’s exhaustive vocal training. The interweaving of both eras of Green’s life doesn’t always cohere, causing a meandering narrative. Bergner works hard to establish momentum during Green’s tumultuous childhood—and finds some success—but when coupled with the details of his opera aspirations, the effect is jarring. Still, as Green’s past and present finally meet in conclusion, his prideful performance at the Met (with his father in joyful attendance) seemingly trumps a good portion of childhood trauma.

A disjointed structure occasionally hobbles this swiftly written life story of music, forgiveness, and resilience.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-316-30067-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Lee Boudreaux/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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