A book of hope for lives that need turning around.

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PRISON BABY

A MEMOIR

The story of how discovering the secret of her birth transformed Stein’s life.

In the opening chapter, the author recalls how, as a 12-year-old girl of mixed, uncertain race adopted into an academic family and a life of the arts, she found a letter that devastated her. Her adoptive mother had long ago made a request that the author’s birth certificate be altered so that she would never learn that she had been born in prison to a heroin-addicted mother. It also seems that, as a baby, she had passed through a series of foster homes, none of which she remembers. “I tuck the paper back into the liner and float from the dresser into my parents’ bedroom and stare at myself in the mirror over the sink, my body in overload” writes Stein. “Time and space distort inside me, I don’t know where I am.” Perhaps the revelation comes too early in the narrative, before readers have gotten a chance to get to know the writer, but such overwriting (and overdramatizing) initially seems to undermine a story that is powerful enough on its own. Through the first half of the memoir, it remains difficult to get to know Stein due to the fact that she doesn’t really know herself. She plainly had some behavioral issues before the revelation—a deep resentment toward her adoptive parents, a penchant for acting out and a hyperactive mind that would likely be diagnosed as ADD—but she spiraled downward into addiction, crime, and unsatisfying sex with both men and women before she turned her life around. The redemptive second half of the memoir explains much of the first, as she learns what heroin in utero can cause, follows a paper trail back to her prison origin, comes to terms with both her birth mother and her adoptive family, and devotes her life to helping and raising consciousness about women in prison.

A book of hope for lives that need turning around.

Pub Date: March 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-9810-3

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2014

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One of the most searing books on illegal immigration since Sonia Nazario’s Enrique’s Journey (2006).

THE FAR AWAY BROTHERS

TWO YOUNG MIGRANTS AND THE MAKING OF AN AMERICAN LIFE

Markham relies on her roles as a journalist and a worker in the realm of refugee resettlement and immigrant education to craft a powerful narrative about an experience that plays out every day in the United States.

Focusing primarily on one family’s struggle to survive in violence-riddled El Salvador by sending some of its members illegally to the U.S., the author never loses sight of the big-picture issues regarding immigration. Throughout, she inserts brief chapters about those concerns in a compellingly intimate narrative about the Flores family. Markham keenly examines the plights of juveniles sent to America without adult supervision, a large, constantly growing contingent that includes twins Ernesto and Raúl Flores, who sought to escape their hometown because they feared for their lives among the rampant gang violence plaguing their country. Knowing almost nothing about the U.S., the Flores twins lacked both money for their journey and any marketable job skills, and they spoke no English. Their journey was harrowing, to say the least (spoilers omitted), and their transition to life in the U.S., mostly in Oakland, continues, raising new difficulties each day. As they have tried to balance their minimum-wage restaurant jobs with education, the schooling has suffered. Meanwhile, their parents and most of their siblings continue to live in highly dangerous circumstances in El Salvador. Markham met the twins in her job as a counselor at a public high school with a heavy influx of juvenile refugees without documentation, and her experience in that role informs the eye-opening narrative. Most of the book takes place before the election of Donald Trump, but it’s clear that the policies of the new administration will make the lives of the Flores twins and countless others even more terrifying.

One of the most searing books on illegal immigration since Sonia Nazario’s Enrique’s Journey (2006).

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-90618-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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A compellingly investigated, relentlessly gloomy report on the drug distribution industry.

DREAMLAND

Discouraging, unflinching dispatches from America’s enduring opiate-abuse epidemic.

Veteran freelance journalist Quinones (Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream: True Tales of Mexican Migration, 2007, etc.) cogently captures the essence of the festering war on drugs throughout the 1990s. He focuses on the market for black tar heroin, a cheap, potent, semiprocessed drug smuggled into the United States from Nayarit, a state on the Pacific coast of Mexico. The author charts its dissemination throughout American heartland cities like Columbus and Portsmouth, Ohio, home to a huge, family-friendly swimming pool named Dreamland, which closed in 1993, after which opiates “made easy work of a landscape stripped of any communal girding.” Assembling history through varying locales and personal portraits, Quinones follows a palpable trail of heartbreak, misery and the eventual demise of seemingly harmless people “shape-shifted into lying, thieving slaves to an unseen molecule.” The author provides an insider’s glimpse into the drug trade machine, examining the evolution of medical narcotic destigmatization, the OxyContin-heroin correlation and the machinations of manipulative pharmaceutical companies. His profiles include a West Virginia father burying his overdosed son, a diabolically resourceful drug dealer dubbed “the Man,” and “Enrique,” a Mexican citizen who entered the drug trade as a dealer for his uncle at 14. Perhaps most intriguing is the author’s vivid dissection of the “cross-cultural heroin deal,” consisting of an interconnected, hive-minded “retail system” of telephone operators, dealers (popularly known as the “Xalisco Boys”) and customers; everything is efficiently and covertly marketed “like a pizza delivery service” and franchised nationwide with precision. The author’s text, the result of a five-year endeavor of remote research and in-person interviews, offers a sweeping vantage point of the nation’s ever expanding drug problem. Though initially disjointed, these frustrating and undeniably disheartening scenarios eventually dovetail into a disturbing tapestry of abuse, addiction and death. Thankfully, for a fortunate few, rebirth is possible.

A compellingly investigated, relentlessly gloomy report on the drug distribution industry.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-1620402504

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2015

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