A solid biography of a deserving subject.



A scholar fills in the gaps in the life of a former slave who became one of the most famous African-Americans of the 19th century.

Greenspan (English/Southern Methodist Univ.; editor: William Wells Brown: A Reader, 2008, etc.) mined the archives to discover how William Wells Brown (a name adopted long after his birth) rose from a nondescript slave probably born in 1814 to become a man of letters, not to mention a medical doctor, before his death in 1884. During the later decades of his life, Brown was the equal of Frederick Douglass as an influential African-American polymath. Like Douglass, Brown crusaded for civil rights. Even after he had won esteem and could live comfortably, he would travel alone to the Deep South, knowing he would be harassed and possibly even murdered. Greenspan is no hagiographer. He understands, for example, that Brown's written works (most famously the novel Clotel) are far from canonical. But the author is openly admiring, and rightly so, of Brown's daring escape from slavery, self-education, powerful public speaking on the anti-slavery circuit, creative approach to the civil rights campaign and efforts to win public office through candidacy in legitimate elections. During the 19th century, the lives of slaves yielded almost no reliable documentation, so Greenspan immersed himself in pre–Civil War chronicles of slave culture to calculate the most likely circumstances of Brown's life. The author’s informed speculation offers a window not only into Brown's suffering and rise, but also the travails (and occasional triumphs) of countless slaves who tried to use their freedom wisely. Greenspan ably navigates Brown’s life and demonstrates how he became a problem to both his slave masters and to any other bigots who could not fathom such intelligence in a lowly slave from Kentucky.

A solid biography of a deserving subject.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-393-24090-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

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A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.



In her first nonfiction book, novelist Grande (Dancing with Butterflies, 2009, etc.) delves into her family’s cycle of separation and reunification.

Raised in poverty so severe that spaghetti reminded her of the tapeworms endemic to children in her Mexican hometown, the author is her family’s only college graduate and writer, whose honors include an American Book Award and International Latino Book Award. Though she was too young to remember her father when he entered the United States illegally seeking money to improve life for his family, she idolized him from afar. However, she also blamed him for taking away her mother after he sent for her when the author was not yet 5 years old. Though she emulated her sister, she ultimately answered to herself, and both siblings constantly sought affirmation of their parents’ love, whether they were present or not. When one caused disappointment, the siblings focused their hopes on the other. These contradictions prove to be the narrator’s hallmarks, as she consistently displays a fierce willingness to ask tough questions, accept startling answers, and candidly render emotional and physical violence. Even as a girl, Grande understood the redemptive power of language to define—in the U.S., her name’s literal translation, “big queen,” led to ridicule from other children—and to complicate. In spelling class, when a teacher used the sentence “my mamá loves me” (mi mamá me ama), Grande decided to “rearrange the words so that they formed a question: ¿Me ama mi mamá? Does my mama love me?”

A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6177-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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