A well-wrought memoir that turns simple observations and memories into powerful illustrations of grief and illness.




A writer recounts the emotions and memories of losing her mother and battling cancer.

“Have you ever heard a tooth smash?” Avery (The Last Nude, 2012, etc.) asks readers early on. “It’s a tiny sound, and a terrifying one.” Avery, winner of the Lambda Literary Award, offers 15 autobiographical essays about grief, death, and illness—and on almost every page includes a powerful observation, usually both tiny and terrifying. In 2011, the author received word that her mother had died, and in her essays dealing with her grief, she weaves together short, piercing moments ranging from childhood to the months after the funeral. By moving nonchronologically from her mother’s alcoholism to family Christmas fights to selling her mother’s jewelry after her death, Avery avoids simplifying her mother or their relationship, offering instead an emotionally driven and complex portrait of her family and of herself. Avery also writes about her deteriorating health, overhauling her diet, and the search for alternative treatments to fight cancer and arthritis. Months after her mother died, she was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition called reactive arthritis, and the medication she takes subsequently led to the development of a rare form of uterine cancer. By her own admission in the introduction, some of the essays, like “Goodbye Ruby,” delve deeply into the technical aspects of her conditions to help readers facing the specific health challenges she did. But even as she explains dense research and terminology or painstakingly recounts frustrating conversations with doctors, she anchors every new challenge with carefully crafted and insightful moments of everyday life. A small child interacting with a cat, a simple trip to the grocery store, or her most embarrassing struggles with menstruation take on fascinating new depth in the context of her illness. As Avery waits in a hospital at one point, she writes dryly about her thoughts with each bouquet of flowers that arrives, “You have cancer. You are getting a hysterectomy. You might die.” Her narration throughout this heavy subject matter strikes an uncanny balance between funny and sad because she has taken the time to pay attention to the details in every moment and has written about them with honesty and wisdom.  

A well-wrought memoir that turns simple observations and memories into powerful illustrations of grief and illness.

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: -

Publisher: Seventeen Reasons

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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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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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

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-448-42421-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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