An unsentimental yet affecting memoir.

ALL AT SEA

A MEMOIR

An award-winning journalist’s account of how she came to terms with the accidental drowning death of her beloved companion and father of her two children.

When Aitkenhead met Tony, she was a successful writer for the Guardian who had grown up with two bohemian parents. He was a charming mixed-race crack addict who “wholesaled cocaine for a living” and smelled of “designer cologne and cannabis.” Both were married, but in time, they developed a powerful attraction to each other and left their respective spouses to become “the most implausible couple I had ever known.” Their challenging but ultimately happy union came to a tragic end 10 years later on a beach in Jamaica where Tony died trying to save their small son from drowning. Aitkenhead remembers her partner—who defied all stereotypes of a street-hustling gangster—with deep affection. “Although a criminal, he was trustworthy and surprisingly guileless,” she writes, and had a “deep hippy streak” that manifested in a love of camping, cooking, and children. A few years into their relationship, the author discovered that she was pregnant and left Tony out of fear for what his crack habit would do to their child. Unwilling to lose her, Tony immediately joined a Cocaine Anonymous group and ended all crack use. He embraced his role as father and later as a charity worker who helped “desperately dispossessed children” from dysfunctional households. With Aitkenhead’s encouragement, Tony went to college and earned a degree in psychology and criminology. That she and her partner were able to learn from each other and work through their race and class differences to form a cohesive family unit makes the book memorable. But in the end, it is the author’s resilience after her lover’s death—which she describes with poised eloquence—that renders the narrative especially satisfying.

An unsentimental yet affecting memoir.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-385-54065-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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